Eight months after agonizing over which university to attend, Skye Kelly is now 100 per cent convinced she made the right choice.
The 18-year-old Brandonite is in her freshman year with the St. Cloud State Huskies women’s hockey team after choosing the Minnesota university from seven NCAA Division I full-ride offers.With her first semester schedule in the books, Kelly said St. Cloud has lived up to her expectations and then some.
"It’s more than what I expected, actually," she said. "It’s been such a rush at the beginning because I didn’t really know anything and being a rookie again, you’ve got to do all the rookie work and what comes with it. But it’s really nice and the team’s a great bunch of girls. Having the team behind me with me going away (from home), it’s been really nice and helpful."
A former Crocus Plains student, Kelly graduated this spring from Balmoral Hall in Winnipeg, where she was a member of the private school’s prestigious hockey program.
One of her reasons for choosing St. Cloud was that she felt she would have the chance to play right away, but a pre-season injury kept her on the sidelines for the Huskies’ first six games of the season. Since making her debut on Oct. 27, the defenceman has played in 13 of the team’s 14 games, picking up four assists. Kelly said she knew from her first shift she would have to step her game up, and she believes she’s done just that.
"I feel like I’ve been elevating my game every time I step on the ice," she said.
"The hockey here is great because the girls work hard every practice and (as for) the team itself, the commitment levels are high and the girls are all wanting to play. So it’s nice to play with a team that’s really wanting to be there and work for each other and work hard off the ice and in the classroom as well."
Playing in the powerhouse Western Collegiate Hockey Association, which has produced every national champion in the sport’s 12-year NCAA history, the Huskies have taken their lumps this season with a 3-11-0 conference record. But St. Cloud is 7-12-1 overall and, with a strong group of freshmen, Kelly sees a bright future for a team that totalled only six wins in its previous two seasons.
"With the squad that we have it’s just a matter of how much we work hard," she said. "I know that we can do it and get to the right spot that we need to be in for playoffs."
One of eight Westman athletes playing NCAA Division I women’s hockey this season, Kelly is preparing for a big infusion of familiar faces next year, with seven players from the region joining the various programs. Kelly said she’s particularly excited about seeing her pals Ashleigh Brykaliuk of Brandon and Halli Krzyzaniak of Neepawa join the college ranks. Both will also play in the WCHA, with Brykaliuk, who played with Kelly at Balmoral Hall, joining the University of Minnesota-Duluth, while Krzyzaniak heads to the University of North Dakota.
"I’ve played with those girls for a long time and it’s nice to see that they’re in the same league as I am and it’s going to be nice to play against them, of course," said Kelly, who will return home for the Christmas break this week. "It’s going to be different because I’m not on the same team with them, but I’m definitely happy for them. They’re both going to really good teams, so you couldn’t ask for any better."