International Ice Hockey Federation

Que sera Sarah

Que sera Sarah

Erickson’s road to WW took five years

Published 06.04.2013 09:40 GMT-4 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Que sera Sarah
Sarah Erickson made the 2013 U.S. team by training on her own. (Photo: Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
If there is an inherent difficulty in women’s hockey, it’s connecting the junior program, the U18 tournament, to the senior World Women’s Championship.

Players who are excellent teenagers and skilled enough for U18 often need several more years of development before being ready for WW events. So the question is, how does a player develop and improve during her college years to get to the senior level?

One answer to that question can be found in the determined career and life of Sarah Erickson, a Team USA forward who won gold at the first U18 in Calgary in 2008 and hasn’t played in a major event for her country since. Even more incredible, she didn’t even have a proper team affiliation in 2012-13.

So how did she do it?

“I trained on my own,” she said of her improbable rise to the senior team. “It definitely made it more rewarding when I got a spot on the roster.”

Say what? Nobody “trains on her own” and makes a national team!

Erickson had a sensational four-year college career at the University of Minnesota, but when she graduated, she figured her hockey days were over.

“I graduated in May 2012 and got a job at U.S. Bank,” she explained. “I was ready to move on, but it was sad because my four years were so much fun. My boyfriend is the assistant coach for the men’s program at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point,” she explained. “I moved there with him, and when the women’s team found out, they asked me to be an assistant coach as well. It’s a Division III school, so it’s been a cool adventure. I quit my job after two months. My banking career went out the window! Hockey always comes first.”

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While all this was happening, she got another pleasant surprise in the form of a phone call from USA Hockey. “They called last summer and asked if I wanted to try out for the senior team in August.”

She jumped at the chance, and a career that seemed stalled if not over was now surging full steam ahead.

“I get up in the morning and train,” she said. “I go to the gym, then skate on my own, then go to practice with the team and coach or skate with them, and then go to the gym after practice.”

Erickson’s only affiliation in 2012-13 was with the Minnesota Whitecaps, a team that won the Clarkson Cup in 2010 but is no longer part of the Canadian WWHL (Western Women’s Hockey League). That team featured Angela Ruggiero, Julie Chu, and Jenny Potter.

“It’s more of a pickup league right now,” Erickson said. “We’re trying to get back into the WWHL, but I think it’s going to be a little bit of a process. We’re just having fun playing colleges when we can. We’ve played UMD, Bemidji State, Wisconsin. It’s a good way to get my legs going.”

Erickson’s college days culminated with a national championship in 2012, but her first year was as difficult as her last was successful. “In my first year, I wasn’t the best player on the ice. I really had to work to be that in the end.”

There was no doubt, though, that Minnesota was a natural fit for her. “I toured a lot of schools,” she continued, “and like everyone else in that situation, I had a lot of fabulous options. It just came down to where I fit in. What stood out was the team itself. The coaching staff was great, and obviously since I’m from northern Minnesota, playing there was a goal of mine. It couldn’t have been a better four years. I feel like having trust in the coach is the most important thing, whether I’m playing or not, and I trusted Brad Frost. You can’t ask for a better team than the one we had—except for the one this year, which was pretty unbelievable. Winning is the first priority, but it’s also about molding and developing people and players. It’s a great organization.”

Although going to camp last fall was a dream come true for Erickson, it wasn’t such a surprising turn of events. Not only had she had a great career with the Golden Gophers, but her coach at the 2008 U18 was current senior coach, Katey Stone, who kept tabs on her over the years.

“It’s ironic that coach Stone was with me in 2008,” Erickson noted. “It was the inaugural season for the U18, which makes me feel old right now. During my four years of college I felt like I progressed so much. I was in and out of the U.S. program, and right now I’m thankful to be here.”

Perhaps what’s even more amazing is that six players from that 2008 U18 gold-medal team are here in Ottawa, having made the senior team only one year out from Sochi.

“She had a great college career,” Stone enthused. “She has a lot of energy and a lot of passion. She’s coming along. Hopefully she’ll keep improving, keep working on all facets of the game. She’s taking care of herself off the ice as well, so this is a good opportunity for her here.”

Erickson has played in only one of the team’s first three games, but that neither diminishes her enthusiasm nor darkens the experience.

“Whether I play a big role on the team or I’m not playing, it doesn’t matter,” Erickson said with true “team first” spirit. “It’s just an honour to represent my country at a big event like this. I’m glad to be here.”

Commented coach Stone: “It’s a big adjustment [going from college to WW]. She played pretty well at the Four Nations in Finland. We’re just trying to see where we can take her game right now. She’s a great kid, a competitor. If she gets the puck in the right spot, she’ll bury it.”

“Coaching has helped my game so much,” Erickson said of her new career. “Just seeing how plays develop from the bench, communicating with the players, is so important. And then I get on the ice and skate with them once in a while as well. The girls are really responsive to me and they respect me as a coach even though I’m very close in age to them.”

For now, though, Erickson is happy and focused as a player with Team USA, both on this year and the next.

“My goal since I was about 12--just like everyone else--is the Olympics. That’s the highest point you can get in women’s hockey. I’ll bust my ass ‘til I get there!”


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