Athlete of the week: Haley Nielsen
Haley Nielsen, a junior from Plymouth, Minn., scored two goals last Friday night to help give the UW-River Falls women’s hockey team a 7-5 win over UW-Superior. The Falcons responded by traveling to Superior the next day and defeating the Yellowjackets 5-0. Nielsen has six goals and 14 assists on the year, helping lead UWRF to a 15-4-2 record and the number five ranking in the country.
The Student Voice sat down with Nielsen to discuss her role as a captain and the team’s improved play.
Q: What led to the offensive outburst against Superior this weekend?
A: I think the biggest thing is practice. We’ve been focusing on getting pucks to the net, especially from a defensive point of view, and getting them low. The forwards have been getting in front of the net, and I think the biggest thing with this year’s team is that every person on the team has contributed in some way by scoring goals.
Q: What led the defense to score a majority of the goals on Friday?
A: We had bodies in front for my goal specifically. For Erica (Schramel), she snuck down on both of hers and had a nice shot. Part of it was just the situation, but I’d like to think we’re getting more accurate with our shooting.
Q: What changed on Saturday to record a shutout against UW-Superior?
A: As a (defensive) core, our main focus was to try to get a shutout, even though we’re not allowed to say that word for superstitious reasons. We focused on defense first and we knew that the forwards would take care of the scoring. It’s kind of hard not to win when you don’t let any (goals) in. We knew we knew we had to focus on a couple of things and make tweaks. In the WIAC, Superior is known for dumping in or chipping behind us when they get to the red line. We needed to close on our gaps and step up, and I think we executed that.
Q: How has your role changed on the team this year from previous seasons?
A: I’ve definitely had to be more vocal than I’m used to. I used to be the person that just sat in the corner and listened to what everyone else said. With the help of the other captains (Carly Moran and Amy Auran), they have helped me come out of my shell and feel comfortable speaking in front of others. It’s been a big change for me.
Q: What has improved since the team suffered a three-game losing streak earlier in the year?
A: That was a rough patch for us. The break helped us a ton, and a week off from hockey got our minds back in the swing of things. Everyone had a fire under them and practices have been more competitive. We hit another level of intensity, and the mentality of the whole season has changed.
Q: What has been the key to the team’s high-powered attack this year?
A: The past two years we’ve always had that one person that scored a ton of points (Chloe Kinsel, Dani Sibley). The freshmen have really stepped up and we have so many people that can score and make things happen. We have more deadly players and that’s been a really big asset for us. Callie Hoff has had an unbelievable start and she’s a gem. This freshman class is unique and has a lot of talent.
Q: What does it mean to have a goalie like Angie Hall in the net, who’s looking to break the division III record for wins?
A: For me it makes me feel more comfortable with an All-American behind me. She’s truly been the backbone of this team since day one. Starting as a freshman and still playing to this day makes everyone feel a little more confident that you can have a couple of mishaps, but she will be there to stop them.
Q: What does the team need to improve upon to beat top-10 ranked teams?
A: Our team has a ton of speed and we don’t always utilize that. Our biggest thing is moving the puck and sharing it and getting shots on net. We have to stay true to what we know and play our systems, and we’ll be fine. (The losing streak) was a low point, especially for us older girls who understand what it truly takes to get to nationals. We don’t have an automatic bid for our conference. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we will get where we need to be.
Q: What challenges have WIAC teams posed this year?
A: I think it’s the rivalry aspect and we’ve played against these girls a lot. There are only four teams, so you get to know them on an individual basis as a player. I think the biggest challenge for us is not letting them get to our heads. There’s cheap shots after the play or foul language. It’s when you play them so much you, you just don’t like them, even though I’m sure they’re great people. You need to be at the top of this conference if you want to play in the postseason. (WIAC teams) always get in our heads. I guess our biggest challenge is the mental aspect of the game versus the actual physical side of things.