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Krzyzaniak an 'extraordinary' defender for UND

Halli Krzyzaniak (18) attempts a shot at St. Cloud but misses early in the first period of Friday's game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

Halli Krzyzaniak was 12 years old when she tagged along with her mother's city league hockey team to the IIHF Women's World Championship.

It was being held in the MTS Center in Winnipeg, about a two-hour drive from her hometown of Neepawa, Man.

Krzyzaniak walked in and was stunned.

The arena was packed.

"I was just in awe," said Krzyzaniak, who had never before been exposed to high-level women's hockey. "That was cool for me to see women's hockey on that stage."

When Krzyzaniak returned home, she started scouring local newspapers to try to find women's hockey articles. When she did, she would cut it out and put it on her wall.

Soon, her walls were covered.

Krzyzaniak never really thought she would rise to that level of hockey, though.

The first time she attended a Hockey Canada National Team tryout in 2011, she did it for the experience and to have fun.

"I totally didn't think there was a chance I would actually make the team," she said. "I just thought it would be a cool thing to do."

At the end of the camp, Krzyzaniak was called into a room by herself to meet with some Hockey Canada personnel. She was mentally prepared to be cut.

"I remember being in shock that I made it," she said. "I was surprised. That was really awesome.

"That kind of started everything."

Krzyzaniak is now a senior at UND and one of the world's rising defensive stars.

Quietly, she's putting together a dominant season on the blue line for the Fighting Hawks and positioning herself to have a shot at making Canada's 2018 Olympic Team.

Krzyzaniak leads UND with a plus-18 rating, despite always drawing the assignment of shutting down the top opposing players. No other defender on the team is better than plus-9.

While defending is her strength, Krzyzaniak has already matched her career-high in points with 17. She's just two points shy of leading the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in defenseman scoring, despite playing on a team that ranks fourth in the league in goals.

"I don't think we've ever, defensively, had a kid who impacts the game as much as she does just from the standpoint of being able to defend and eliminate other teams' more elite offensive players," UND coach Brian Idalski said. "She's terrific. She's instinctively so good at gap and angle and contain. Honestly, it's quite extraordinary looking at the numbers and what she's doing for us."

Idalski estimates that Krzyzaniak is playing between 28 and 30 minutes a night. When UND is on the road, her minutes are probably even higher.

With offense being UND's biggest challenge this season, Krzyzaniak has developed that part of her game.

She's third on the team in scoring, only three back of leader Ryleigh Houston. No defenseman has ever led the team in scoring in program history.

"She's really worked on her game at the offensive end," Idalski said. "She's had some success at the lower levels offensively. Freshman year was a bit of an eye-opener for her. Lanes weren't as plentiful. Everyone is blocking shots. It has taken her a little time, but now you see her jumping in the rush, she's much better at moving along the blue line, getting pucks through with her head up. The way she has developed her offensive game has been pretty special."

Krzyzaniak has translated her success at UND to opportunities with Hockey Canada.

She's played in the last two Women's World Championships—the sport's most prominent tournament outside of the Olympic Games—winning silver in both.

She has played for Team Canada in Four Nations tournaments and in U.S.-Canada series, placing her firmly in the mix for a roster spot at the 2018 Olympic Games.

Krzyzaniak will find out this spring whether she's on Canada's preliminary Olympic roster.

"Now, it's a little stressful waiting to hear about next year," she said. "I'm managing that. Trying not to think of that."

Krzyzaniak's sights are set on the end of the season.

Her UND squad is playing at rival Minnesota this weekend (7:07 tonight, 4:07 p.m. Saturday) in Ridder Arena. The Fighting Hawks probably need to win the WCHA Final Faceoff to get into the NCAA tournament.

UND has reached the Final Faceoff in each of the last six years but hasn't won it yet.

"We're trying to make that last push," she said.

Off the ice, Krzyzaniak has plenty of work to do, too.

She's a pre-med student, majoring in Honors, Biology and Pre-Health.

She has taken 12 to 15 credits during fall and spring semesters and roughly nine credits every summer, while earning WCHA academic honors.

"We preach to kids here you have the opportunity to do both," Idalski said. "You don't have to dumb down your major or dumb down your hockey competition. You can do both at a high level. Halli had a plan coming in. She's executed it. She's stuck to it and worked hard all year long, not just on her game as a hockey player but school as well."

Krzyzaniak said if she's not with Canada's Olympic Team next season, she may go to Europe to play professionally.

"I'm just going to ride it out as long as I can," she said. "When it's done, I'll probably go to med school."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 12th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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