Spring break is something different for Stecklein

Lee Stecklein (courtesy of Eric Miller/Gopher Athletics)

Spring break is usually when college students get away from campus and possibly spend some time down south where it’s sunny and warm. For Lee Stecklein, spring break is much different.

Stecklein, the former Roseville Area High School hockey standout and current member of the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team, spent last week preparing for and playing in the NCAA Division I Frozen Four. Classes are back in session this week but Stecklein is in western Canada training with Team USA for the Women’s World Championships.

Spring break is supposed be a time to relax and enjoy the weather away from a winter climate, right?

“Not during hockey season,” Stecklein said last week.

A junior for the Golden Gophers, Stecklein played in her third Frozen Four last weekend. In the first two, she got to play at Minnesota’s home rink, Ridder Arena, but this year the location was much different. 

The University of New Hampshire hosted the Frozen Four at its Whittemore Center Arena in Durham. Minnesota entered as the defending champion but not the favorite. The Gophers were the No. 3 seed behind top-seeded Boston College and No. 2 Wisconsin.

The Gophers had won three of the past four national championships with the one they missed out on coming in 2014. Stecklein wasn’t on the team that season because she spent the winter preparing for and playing in the Sochi Olympics.

The Frozen Four took place past the deadline for this edition of the Review.

Prior to the Frozen Four, Stecklein picked up her second consecutive All-America honor. She was named a second-team All-American along with teammate Dani Cameranesi. Gopher Hannah Brandt, who played high school hockey at Hill-Murray, was a first-team selection for the third time in her career.

Stecklein is also a two-time first-team all-Western Collegiate Hockey Association selection. She has twice been named a WCHA Scholar Athlete and to the WCHA all-academic team. As a sophomore, Stecklein was named to the all-U.S. College Hockey Online first team and a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar.

Stecklein, a defenseman, entered the Frozen Four with a career high eight goals and 19 assists. Since the beginning of her college career, she has been told that she needs to take more shots, a concept with which she still struggles.

“I’m still trying to shoot the puck more, I guess,” said Stecklein. “Some people still say it’s not enough.”

Minnesota head coach Brad Frost likes what he has seen in terms of Stecklein’s offensive development.

“She continues to become even better and better,” Frost said. “She’s an offensive threat now that she’s been working on that part of her game. It’s been a point of emphasis for her to become more of an offensive threat. One of the only ways you do that is by shooting the puck. She knows that we want her to be more offensive and to take those shots and take those chances. I think she’s done a great job.”

Pulling the trigger for a player known more for her defensive play can be difficult, especially on a team with so many front-line offensive threats. This year’s team features five players averaging more than a point per game and two who are over 1 1/2 points per contest.

“We’ve just got so many great players who have that scoring capability that it seems like they might have a better chance of putting the puck in the net,” Stecklein said.

Regardless of how often she puts the puck in the net, Stecklein has proven her worth enough for Frost.

“She’s always been a shutdown defenseman against anybody,” Frost said. “She’s a great leader and someone who wants what’s best for our team and our players.”

Those skills have also served Stecklein well in international competition. She has played in a dozen events for Team USA and will make it 13 later this month when she and her national squad teammates participate in the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships.

This year’s world championships are being played in Kamloops, British Columbia, which is about a three and a half hour drive northeast of Vancouver. Not exactly your quintessential spring-break destination, but for a hockey player it makes sense.

When she was on the Olympic team and previous world championship teams, Stecklein was usually the youngest player on the roster. Now that she’s four years out of high school, she has moved up and is now only the fourth-youngest player on the Team USA roster.

“I don’t know about being an old veteran but I definitely don’t have to do any of the ‘youngest-person’ duties any more, which is nice,” said Stecklein.

The world championships begin March 28 and run through April 4. Team USA plays Canada, Finland and Russia in the preliminary round before most likely advancing to the semifinals on April 3. The bronze and gold-medal games are set for April 4.

Team USA is the two-time defending world champion and has won five of the last six world titles. The Women’s World Championships began in 1990 and have been held 16 times. Canada won the first eight and 10 overall. 


Brian Meyers can be reached at bmeyers@lillienews.com or 651-748-7819. Follow him on Twitter @BMeyersNews.

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