Coaching Changes Part 1 – Maura Crowell

Spending A Couple Days with UMD's New Women's Hockey Coach

In February, as the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Women’s Hockey team continued battling for playoff position, head coach Maura Crowell, and her assistant Laura Bellamy, are looking even deeper into the future.

“Either we go to B.C. that first weekend, or the third weekend,” Crowell said to Bellamy, as they worked on the 2017-18 schedule.

Ten months earlier, UMD Athletic Director Josh Berlo hired Crowell to be only the second head coach in program’s storied history.

“I did quite a bit of research on coach Crowell and knew that she had a lot of positives, a lot of passion and some great experience,” said Berlo. “Maura brings great energy, great positive coaching, great hockey knowledge.”

And Crowell understands her place in UMD history.

“To be the second coach at UMD, I think it’s a huge accomplishment in my career and in my life,” said Crowell. “I’m very proud of that but again i think of the future.”
For Crowell, the future not only includes seasons down the road, but at the time, there were still games left this season. Including a key series against the rival Minnesota Golden Gophers.

“Let’s play with a lot of pride,” Crowell told her team during the last practice before the Minnesota series. “Let’s not over-estimate the Gophers.”

UMD hadn’t beaten Minnesota since January of 2012, including a sweep at Ridder Arena in the matchup of the season. But the chance to coach against the top teams of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is why Crowell left Harvard for UMD.

“I knew it would be a challenge but I’m the type person that likes a challenge,” said Crowell. “I’m thrilled that that I’m here and I’m glad that I took it.”

Sixteen of Crowell’s players were at UMD last season. For her, getting them to embrace change, helped the transition go smoothly.

“Change is a good thing,” said junior Ashleigh Brykaliuk. “It happens at all levels of hockey and coaching staffs come in. You have to adjust, you have to learn and it helps grow as a player too.”

That transition couldn’t have been smoother from Crowell’s perspective.

“The buy-in factor is huge and its required really to be successful at all,” said Crowell. “That started immediately when we got here in August.  I was very fortunate with this group, they’re amazing and I don’t know that everybody understands how amazing they are.  They had one coach here for 16 years. These guys were bred in that program and to have a change can be really difficult. They embraced it, they’ve done everything we’ve asked, they’ve been great role models.”

Less than 24 hours later, game time.

“Ready to go? Got the plan? Got it all down? We should be forechecking the hell out of them and coming back hard,” Crowell told her team during her pre-game remarks. “If we’re picking up sticks in the slot, we’ll never have a complaint about the way you’re playing. We go as you go, this bus, like we talked about is going in this direction, we need everybody on board.”

Crowell’s team takes the AMSOIL Arena ice, starting the last home series of the season. But the bulldogs quickly fell behind, and trailed 2-nothing after 1 period. Over the next two periods, Crowell takes time to talk to players individually, giving feedback, something Brykaliuk appreciates.

“That’s a big part of development too, especially for girls hockey,” said Brykaliuk. “I think girls do develop quite a bit in college working with good coaches. That development is really important and a lot of the girls have appreciated it a lot.”

UMD lost to the Gophers this night, and were swept the following evening. However this season, success isn’t judged merely by wins and losses, and the consensus is the Bulldogs headed in the right direction.

“This is such a great program at a great university with tons of success, and that’s what we want to bring back to this community,” said Crowell. That’s why I’m here, I want to add new years to all of these great awards that are around here. That’s my charge.”

Crowell’s players agree.

“It’s a pretty exciting future for this program,” said Brykaliuk. “I’m super-pumped and confident for the future.

And so does her boss.

“This season has built some serious and significant positive momentum,” said Berlo. UMD Women’s Hockey has a bright future.”

Bulldog fans got a glimpse of that bright future at the beginning of the playoffs, as UMD swept #7 Bemidji State on the road, earning a berth in the WCHA Final Faceoff in Minneapolis. The Bulldogs will take on Wisconsin in the semifinals.

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