WOMEN'S HOCKEY: UND to take on the Duluth Bulldogs this weekend
Shannon Kaiser has spent much of this season as a role player on the UND women’s hockey team.
Now, that has all changed.
With three elite players gone at the 2014 Sochi Games and another key player injured, Kaiser has vaulted to the top line on a No. 4 UND team that is in Duluth this weekend to take on the Bulldogs in a key Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.
Last weekend, the Crookston native played on a line with UND’s leading scorer, Josefine Jakobsen, and freshman Amy Menke against the top-rated Gophers, and there’s a good chance she will be back there for the series opener at 3:07 p.m. Saturday in AmsOil Arena.
“I think Shannon has really developed as far as being a little more consistent,” UND coach Brian Idalski said. “She still as a ways to go. But she’s strong on the puck. She’s good on the forecheck. She plays at a similar speed to Jakobsen, so we thought that would be a good fit.”
Kaiser, a sophomore, has a goal and six points on the season, while primarily playing on the third or fourth line. She got a taste of playing on a top line during UND’s nonconference series at Cornell in December. UND was missing players that weekend as well.
“It’s not the first time we’ve plugged her in (a top line) with people missing,” Idalski said. “She did a nice job there. She’s done well.”
Kaiser said she’s not the only one who has to step up her game in the next month.
“All of our younger players do with some of our top leaders gone,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity for everyone to step up and take their roles and work hard to show what we have as younger players.”
This weekend’s series against the Bulldogs is important for a number of reasons. For one, UND sits at No. 8 in the Pairwise Rankings, which is the last possible spot if UND wants a shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Secondly, the Bulldogs are just three points back of UND in the WCHA standings.
Like UND, the Bulldogs are missing a couple of players at the Olympics, too.
Defensemen Lara Stalder is playing for Switzerland and defenseman Tea Villila is with Finland. In their absence, Duluth played with five defensemen last weekend in a sweep of Bemidji State – one of those five being Jenna McParland, who is usually a forward.
“We have to make sure we have a good forecheck,” Kaiser said. “That’s been one of our biggest keys right now.”
The other big key is getting production out of some of the younger players with increased roles – Kaiser, Menke, Kayla Garder and Layla and Lisa Marvin. UND sophomore Leah Jensen, who returned from injury last weekend after a year off, also may see an increased role against the Bulldogs.
“We are taking this as an opportunity to push the pace with some kids that otherwise might not have gotten this opportunity development-wise,” Idalski said. “To have (Becca) Kohler lead our club… to have Menke, Gardner, Marvin need to make plays… this is something that’s going to make them better for the playoffs this year and the next year after that.
“You can’t put a price tag on that kind of experience. That’s what I’m the most excited about teaching right now – having those kids have to play way above what they would normally be expected to right now. Longterm that’s a huge plus for us.”