UMD women's hockey: Hanley's move to defense provides offensive boost to blue line

A center her first three-plus seasons at a Bulldog, senior Kylie Hanley is trying out as a defenseman to give UMD more of an offensive punch from the blue line. The Bulldogs host Ohio State this weekend at Amsoil Arena.

Kylie Hanley (12) of Minnesota Duluth controls the puck against Minnesota during the first period on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

For three-plus seasons, Kylie Hanley has played center for Minnesota Duluth. However, when the team returned from a three-week break in mid-November, the Bulldogs senior found herself back at the blue line playing as a defenseman.

Seeking some advice, she knew just the teammate to contact: A Bulldog who had gone through the same transition a few seasons back — senior forward-turned-defenseman Ashton Bell.

“I talked to her a little bit, and I was like, ‘Hey, I think I'm playing D this weekend,’” Hanley said. “She goes, ‘(Oh my God), what? No way!’

“I was like, ‘this is the first week and I haven't taken any 2-on-1s or 3-on-2s yet, so it'll be interesting.”


Hanley said the advice Bell — who is centralized with the Canadian national team ahead of the 2022 Olympics — told her was simple, that “you’ll be fine,” and so far the captain has been correct. Minus the checking-from-behind major penalty that got her ejected 11 minutes into last Friday’s loss to Penn State in Washington D.C., Hanley has done well at defense with a goal and plus-4 rating in her first three-plus games.

Hanley said its been fun the last month learning something new at this point of her hockey career, though she does miss being a forward. She said she feels comfortable in the defensive zone since Bulldogs centers act as a third defenseman on that end of the rink. It’s in the offensive zone where she is sometimes unsure of herself, specifically when to stay back and when to jump up in the play.

“I have such an offensive mind that I always want to jump up,” Hanley said. “Knowing when the best time to do that is, is one of the biggest things and knowing when to stay back as well.”

Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell — who picked up her 200th career win as a college head coach last Saturday against St. Lawrence in D.C. — said Hanley’s move to defense has not been made permanent. It’s currently being evaluated on a week-by-week basis.

Kylie Hanley (12) of Minnesota Duluth controls the puck near Casey O'Brien (26) of Wisconsin during the second period on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth, Minn. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Crowell said an injury during a scrimmage in practice initially prompted the change going into the series with Bemidji State in order to give the team more depth at defense. Hanley also provides the team with more of an offensive punch at the blue line.


Bell provided that the previous two seasons, accounting for 15 of the 24 goals scored and 31 of the 88 assists over the previous two seasons by defensemen. Not counting Hanley, UMD’s defensemen have four goals and 10 assists in 12 games this year.

“The way she jumps into plays, the anticipation, she gets shots through, she’s not afraid to leave the blue line and jump into the play,” Crowell said of what Hanley brings offensively to defense, calling the contributions “huge.”

“It allows our forwards to play a certain way and its a good example to our D that they can go a little bit more. She’s a role model in that way. It just makes us more dynamic.”

Minnesota Duluth's Kylie Hanley (12) controls the puck against Ohio State's Sara Säkkinen (25) during a Jan. 15, 2021, game at Amsoil Arena in Duluth last season. Clint Austin / File / News Tribune

Hanley said having an experienced and calm defensive partner like senior Maggie Flaherty has helped her make the move to defense. She said she trusts Flaherty to have her back, especially when she jumps up in the play.

That’s something Hanley said is fun about playing on the blue line, jumping up to attack. And because of where she is on the ice, that’s much easier to do.

“Especially in the (offensive) zone, it’s fun to see the plays develop and see everyone down there,” Hanley said. “Then you can really see when the best time to jump in is.”


Scouting the Buckeyes

UMD will play its first games at Amsoil Arena in 47 days when it hosts Ohio State at 6:01 p.m. Friday and 3:01 p.m. Saturday in WCHA play.

“It’s nice not to be packing bags,” Crowell said of playing at home.

Since Crowell took over the Bulldogs as coach, UMD is 10-2 at home against the Buckeyes. Last year’s split at Amsoil Arena Jan. 15-16 marked the end of a 10-game home winning streak over OSU that dated back to January 2016.

The Buckeyes, having played 2-4 more league games than the rest of the WCHA, currently sit atop the WCHA standings and are ranked No. 2 in the country. They’ve won eight straight games since being swept at Wisconsin Oct. 23-24. Those are the Buckeyes’ only two defeats this season.

Junior forward Jennifer Gardiner leads OSU in scoring with 10 goals and a team-high 19 assists. The 12 goals by senior forward Gabby Rosenthal leads the team. Senior goaltender Andrea Braendli has a .935 save percentage and 1.53 goals against average with one shutout in 10 games this year.

Crowell got a look at Ohio State in person last weekend, as the Buckeyes also took part in the D1 in DC tournament, going 2-0 against the Saints and Nittany Lions.

“They have good depth. They play a very structured game,” Crowell said. “They know what they're supposed to do and they do it well. So good team, good depth, it'll be a great matchup.”


Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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The 2022 first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning scored six goals as a freshman at UMD.
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