WOMEN'S HOCKEY: Player raised in Denmark found a second home at UND, helped transform program
Michelle Karvinen received recruiting interest from every Western Collegiate Hockey Association team.
She didn’t say ‘no’ to any of them.
“I wanted to give everyone a chance to tell me why I should go there, because I didn’t know a lot about it,” said Karvinen, who was born and raised in Denmark. “I talked to a lot of teams. It was tough to choose when you don’t have anyone back home you can ask.”
Karvinen eventually settled on UND, and during her three seasons in Grand Forks, she’s found a second home and helped transform the women’s hockey program into one of the best in the country.
This weekend, Karvinen will likely play her final games in Ralph Engelstad Arena during UND’s first round Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against Bemidji State (7:07 p.m. Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday).
Karvinen only was able to get three years of eligibility from the NCAA because of a European league she played in prior to coming to North America. Even if an appeal to get her a fourth year is denied, her impact at UND will be lasting.
Karvinen was the first European superstar to commit to UND, helping open the door for future foreign players. Her development has been impressive, too. Karvinen recently won the Directorate Award as the best forward in the 2014 Winter Olympics, cementing her spot as one of the top women’s players in the world.
At UND, she wears the captain’s ‘C’ and she’s racked up 129 career points in 83 games.
“When I first got to know Michelle during that first year, I was kind of shocked,” UND coach Brian Idalski said. “She’s the nicest, humblest superstar I’ve ever been around. Normally, there’s a bit of… ‘Yeah, I know I’m good.’ But for whatever reason, she’s just genuinely a super nice person to everybody.
“Early on, we said, ‘I’m not sure she understands how good she is.’”
Landing at UND
UND understood early on that Karvinen — a dual Danish-Finnish citizen — had loads of talent.
Idalski started recruiting Karvinen before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Karvinen had more suitors after she led Team Finland in scoring at the event.
Karvinen didn’t have any time to make on-campus visits, so she had to do her own research to pick a college.
“I remember distinctly recruiting her and she asked us, ‘How are you going to make me better in the D-zone? How are you going to make me a better penalty killer,’” Idalski recalled. “For someone that gifted, to be that mature to say that’s something they want to work on, that’s huge.”
Karvinen said she liked the coaching staff and was intrigued by the Grand Forks community’s love for hockey. She also knew the rich history of the men’s program at UND.
“The staff here was really good at recruiting,” Karvinen said. “They did a lot of videos. I couldn’t visit any of the schools so I knew I had to do the research myself. I read about UND’s history. I knew about the men’s program. And I liked hearing what the coaches wanted for the team.”
Karvinen immediately jumped into a big role for UND.
She played right wing on a line with Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux in her first-career game. She also played key roles on the power play and the penalty kill.
Karvinen racked up 61 points in 36 games as a rookie, earning WCHA rookie of the year honors. As a sophomore, she had 47 points in 27 games. This season, she has 13 goals and 21 points in 20 games.
Karvinen is the team’s leading goal scorer even though she has missed more than a third of the season due to Finnish National Team obligations and the 2014 Sochi Games.
“She’s such a dynamic player offensively,” Idalski said. “It means so much for us to have someone of that caliber. It makes us that much better of a team.”
Idalski said Karvinen’s skill level isn’t the only thing that jumps out at him this season.
“Leadership-wise, she’s been lights out,” he said. “She took leadership extremely serious and embraced that. She’s the epitome of what we want. I think that’s kind of the legacy that Joce and Mo left, not only being the go-to kid on the ice, but also in the locker room and off the ice.
“When you think about her potentially having one more year — or the fact that she could have had one more year — it would be unbelievable what she would be capable of.”
Karvinen wants to chase a WCHA postseason title with the UND team this season. In the future, she will set her sights on the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I’m hungry for more,” Karvinen said. “It’s four years away. A lot has happened from Vancouver to now. But I’m not going to say ‘no.’ I want to go. I hope nothing is going to get in my way.”
But first things first.
With her family in attendance, Karvinen will lead UND into a critical best-of-three series against Bemidji State this weekend. If UND loses, its season will be over. If it wins, it will advance to the WCHA Final Faceoff for the fourth consecutive season.
UND needs to win the Final Faceoff in order to make the NCAA tournament.
Regardless of what happens, Karvinen said she made the right decision on where to attend college.
“I’m so happy,” Karvinen said. “I knew our team wasn’t going to be the best when I got here. But always playing with the boys, you had to push yourself to get better. Being a program that’s constantly improving, it makes me an even better player. You have to push yourself. You can see where we’re at now. It’s amazing to see the progress we’ve done as a program. I’m proud to be a part of that.”