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Betsy Helfand | St. Paul Pioneer Press | January 11, 2019

Women's hockey: Gophers freshmen adapt quickly to college play

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Before their first game of the season, the Gophers women's hockey freshmen found written letters of encouragement in their lockers from senior goalie Emma May trying to quell their nerves, reassuring them that they belong and encouraging them to go out and play their best.

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"We weren't expecting that either and just to read that and know that she believed in us and everything just made us more confident I believe, and I think all of us still have them hanging in our lockers," freshman defenseman Gracie Ostertag said.

The Gophers freshman class has found its way quickly, gelling with each other over the summer and fitting right in with their new teammates.

Taylor Heise, 2018's Minnesota Ms. Hockey, is third on the team with 21 points through 22 games for the Gophers, who enter this weekend's series at Minnesota State Mankato with a 19-2-1 record.

Ostertag and Heise are two of the seven who make up the freshman class. All but one -- redshirt freshman Amy Potomak -- played high school hockey in Minnesota, meaning they knew each other and played against each other growing up.

"It's funny seeing some of the pictures when they're 8, 9, 10 years old at these different tournaments," coach Brad Frost said. "It's just another level of comfort for them. Making a transition to college hockey is always difficult but if you can check some boxes off to allow yourself to be more confident, it makes things even better. And one of those boxes is the comfort with the rest of your classmates."

Heise said she moved to campus about a week after she graduated from Red Wing High School and was around her future classmates for most of the summer.

"A good chunk of us committed at the same time, so once we figured that out, I think we started to talk more, go to camps and actually interact," Heise said. " ... We started to commit to being a group and really wanting to make our success a team success. We wanted to be as good as we can to come in here and make sure we could make an effort to help the team."

Off the ice, the group likes to go out to eat, ride around on their mopeds, go to movies together, and take shopping trips, including a weekly Target run.

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On the ice, they've provided nearly 30 percent of the team's scoring, with 72 of the team's 246 points so far this season.

Frost said Heise, who is third on the team with nine goals, has a great shot and is determined to play at a higher level. He called Potomak, who hails from Canada, one of the best players to come out of North America. He praised Catie Skaja's endurance, said Abigail Boreen can make a difference with her size, and called Emily Oden a strong power forward.

On defense, Frost said Ostertag is strong and powerful, and Crystalyn Hengler has one of the hardest shots on the team.

"They can all skate, they understand the game well, they're great people, and they really just use their different strengths to their advantage to make a difference on our team," Frost said. 

This article is written by Betsy Helfand from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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