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Athlete of the Week: Haley Nielsen

November 2, 2016

Haley Nielsen made a big impact in the number two nationally-ranked Falcons Hockey 4-0 win over Bethel. The sophomore defender from Plymouth, Minnesota, scored two goals and recorded an assist for the Falcons as they opened up their season with a shutout at Bethel Saturday night. Nielsen’s first goal was on the power play in the second period and she added an unassisted goal in the third period. Nielsen also earned WIAC Player of the Week honors for her performance.

The Student Voice sat down with Nielsen to discuss her big opening night and the expectations facing UWRF after its historic run last season.

Q: Were there higher expectations this season than past seasons after last year’s finish?

A: I would say so, since we finished so high and making it the championship game has never happened [to us] before. Our major goal this year is to win it all, so we put a little more pressure on ourselves in order to achieve that.

Q: What was the biggest focus in the off-season to take the next step to win a national championship?

A: The biggest thing was utilizing everyone on the team. We lost Chloe Kinsel last year, which is a huge loss because she put up a ton of points, so we knew this year we had to utilize the freshman and everyone’s strengths to make up for that loss. I think overall everyone focused on quickness and speed and team chemistry.

Q: Do you feel like you’re personally more involved in the offense after having eight points last season but already three in one game?

A: That was kind of my goal this year. I’ve usually been a defensive defenseman and playing with Paige Johnson last year I learned from her to be aggressive but not stupid about it. This year, my goal is to focus on defense and hopefully the offensive side will come with it.

Q: What came together for such a dominant win over a good Bethel team?

A: From the first practice, Coach Cranston has said the same thing, that everyone was going full speed the whole time. Our work ethic is incredible this year and the senior class is doing a great job with leadership and encouraging everyone throughout practice. I think our intensity overall is one of the reasons we were able to dominate that first game.

Q: The team seemed to have a slow start last season. Is there anything that’s been done differently to avoid that this season?

A: [Cranston] has always said that the last two or three years, River Falls lost two of their first five games. So this year our goal was to start off strong. Obviously a bid to get into the national tournament is very difficult so we can’t afford to lose many games. I think we all had that in the back of our mind that in order to achieve our ultimate goal we would need to win these first couple of games.

Q: What is this team’s biggest strength?

A: I would definitely say leadership, because I believe we have five seniors and they all play a pivotal role and do a great job. Having that experience with a lot of underclassman, because my grade and the freshman class is pretty large, has helped us get adjusted to college level. Our experience and our overall speed and work ethic makes us deadly.

Q: How excited is the team to finally get a chance to play in the new Hunt Arena?

A: We are very excited. It was kind of surreal for all of us walking in and practicing for the first time there. When we practice, we have certain places where we go to do certain drills so it’s kind of weird facing different sides and different ways, so it’s been an adjustment. For the seniors, it was a kind of a big deal to make the last [season] the most important. I think having the new rink gives us a little boost of energy and hopefully will attract more people.