DULUTH, Minn. — In her second season as head coach of the U.S. Under-18 Women's National Team, Maura Crowell often finds herself at odds with Canada.
That all changes, however, when she is back at Amsoil Arena as head coach of the Bulldogs. Then Hockey Canada goes from being a chief rival, to a dedicated partner of the USA Hockey coach.
"We want to work with every country that our kids come from," Crowell said. "We work with Sweden with Emma (Soderberg), and Canada closely. Usually we are on the same page."
Crowell and Canada have been on the page for some time now when it comes to 19-year-old junior Ashton Bell of Deloraine, Manitoba. A forward the previous two years with the Bulldogs and before that with Canada's Under-18 Women's National Team, Bell finally agreed in the offseason to give defenseman a go at the behest of both her school and country.
Bell made her official blue line debut last weekend in the nonconference home split with Clarkson. She finished with a plus-3 rating and assisted on all four Bulldogs' goals in the 4-2 loss and 2-0 win.
Bell will remain a defenseman this weekend — and beyond — when the Bulldogs open WCHA play against Minnesota State-Mankato at 3:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Amsoil Arena.
"We've talked to Ashton about this over the years, and it wasn't a huge surprise when we talked about it last spring," Crowell said of the move. "You have to get the buy-in from the player as well as the governing body and the team. Once you have that, it's a good thing. If you try to force someone to do something they don't want to do, it really muddies the waters.
"She's clearly a hybrid-D because she has that offensive ability. She sees the ice really, really well and is a good puck mover in general. Now she has a little more space and time to do those things."
Injuries helped move happen
The Bulldogs first started using Bell as a defenseman last season in a pinch when fellow Manitoba native Jalyn Elmes was injured. Hockey Canada had done the same with Bell during development camps when injuries arose.
Bell spent much of the summer as a defenseman at Hockey Canada development camps and remained there during the Canada National Women's Team Fall Festival in September.
"Those camps have been huge just to lead into this season," Bell said. "They've been great. I've learned lots from those, so I had more knowledge coming into this season."
Bell said she played defense growing up and she had many of the same defensive responsibilities as a center. She said she's still adjusting to transitions and playing odd-man rushes, but she is getting more and more comfortable every day on the blue line.
Four assists against the Golden Knights last weekend helped as well, she said.
"It opens more space for me," said Bell, who posted 16 goals and 24 assists the last two seasons. "I've always been kind of a playmaker. I can see the ice better and everything is in front of me."
In addition to being an offensive threat, Bell adds some much needed depth to the Bulldogs' blue line. Instead of rolling two defensive pairings — with three of the four being freshmen last year — UMD rolled three pairings last week and shut out a Golden Knights squad that was held without a goal for the third time in the last four seasons.
"Our 'D' core has a pretty well established identity back there already, and I think that allows Maddie (Rooney) to play the way that she wants to play," Crowell said.
"We talked a lot last year about Maggie Flaherty, Lizzie Norton, and Kaylee Skinner, the freshmen, getting a ton of ice time and look at what that has done this year to our group."Matt Wellens (@mattwellens) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (218) 723-5317.