Perhaps the best advertisement for the Minnesota Thoroughbreds is that 28 alumni are currently playing at the high school level in the Gopher State and a total of 97 have played college hockey.
“Basically, what we offer for girls is another avenue to pursue their hockey careers,” coach Marci Bydlon said. “We play over 50 games a season and we get to travel and play against some of the best teams in the nation as well as playing in the Junior Women’s Hockey League.
“We have girls that come to us and need more competition to play against. We pride ourselves in developing players.”
Not every girl who tries out for the Thoroughbreds possesses the skills of a future U.S. Olympic Team player.
“We may see somebody who isn’t the crème de la crème but who has the desire to take it to the next level,” Bydlon said. “What we do is work on their skills and we also fine tune them.”
Perhaps even more important than fine-tuning skills such as skating, passing and shooting is the emphasis the Thoroughbreds place on time management.
“We travel quite a bit,” Bydlon said. “It gets them ready for their freshman year in college when they must get accustomed to time management.
“Given our regimented schedule, they must adhere to time management. They can’t play if they don’t keep up their grades.”
Arguably the two most notable Thoroughbreds alumni are U.S. Olympians Jenny Potter (Edina, Minn.) and Molly Engstrom (Siren, Wis.).
“Our girls know that this is quite an honor to put on the same jersey that at one time was worn by women who went on to play in the Olympics,” Bydlon said. “That says a lot about our program.”
Besides Potter and Engstrom, other players who rank high on the Thoroughbreds all-time scoring list are college hockey players Stephanie Anderson (Minnesota), Jenny Hempel (Minnesota-Duluth), Kari Lundberg (Minnesota), Roxy Stang (St. Cloud State) and Lindsay Burman (Quinnipiac).
Another aspect of the Thoroughbreds is the summer training program run by Bydlon, who’s in her 10th season with the organization.
“I run a summer training program for girls who are trying out for the team and college players who are coming back so they’re ready for next season,” she said. “I hold a four-day training session and work on skills such as skating strides.
“We break down their strides and shooting. Throughout the season, that’s what we incorporate. Plus, we ask women who’ve graduated from Division I schools and are interested in coaching to help on a younger level.”
A year ago, the Thoroughbreds “graduated” 11 players who went on to play college hockey. Not surprisingly, that left several holes in this season’s roster.
“We started with three returnees this season,” Bydlon said. “It seems like we’re always re-loading for next season.
“When I say we have to develop players, I’m being serious.”
Serious and necessary considering the Thoroughbreds annually play in several national-level tournaments during a given season and then compete for a USA Hockey National Championship at season’s end.
The Thoroughbreds also hold their own international-level tournament during the Thanksgiving break. The 2012 tournament drew a total of 16 teams from states like Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin plus Canadian providences like Alberta and British Columbia.
“You want to see other teams that you wouldn’t normally see,” Bydlon said of the tournament. “And on a weekend, Canadian teams wouldn’t have trouble traveling here because they’ve already had their Thanksgiving [in Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October].
“For teams in the area like Illinois and Wisconsin, there are teams that you won’t see during the season, which is a great draw.”
Despite all the notable accomplishments of the Thoroughbreds, it’s the little things that have meant the most during her tenure with the organization.
“It’s when you get that little note from somebody that’s graduated from college and thanks you because they were able to live out their dreams,” Bydlon said. “Or it’s when somebody comes back and thanks you personally.
“They know it was like family when they were here. That’s the fun part, when you see that they’ve made it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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