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North Pole’s Wilkes adapts to rigors of Hockey East

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Posted: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 7:26 am

FAIRBANKS - The difference is night and day, Ashley Wilkes said of going from being a goaltender in high school at the North American Hockey Academy in Stowe, Vt., to doing likewise this season as a freshman in NCAA Division I women’s hockey for the University of New Hampshire.

“I’m playing for something bigger now, I’m representing a whole university,” Wilkes, who’s from North Pole, said Monday during a telephone interview. “It takes a lot more commitment this year.”

She’s adapted to the days of classes in the morning, followed by film study, riding stationery bikes, goalie warmups, practices, weight lifting and yoga.

“It’s a pretty long day,’’ said Wilkes, who is undecided on a major but is considering nutrition.

The 18-year-old also adapted to being ready for the Wildcats of Hockey East when her name is called.

New Hampshire starting goaltender Vilma Vaatovaara sustained a concussion in late November and was sidelined for the rest of the fall semester.

Wilkes took over for the native of Vekkola, Finland, and one of the New Hampshire upperclassmen who welcomed Wilkes when the Alaskan arrived on the campus in Durham, N.H.

“I started off pretty lucky with the upperclassmen, they were so welcoming,’’ said Wilkes, who is among three freshmen on the Wildcats’ 21-player roster.

“They made feel like I was part of the team, and even after I got my first start, they were always willing and ready to give me extra shots (in practice),’’ she said. “They treat me the same as them, and it helps a lot.”

Such as helping the 5-foot-9 rookie secure a 2-1 win over visiting Dartmouth on Dec. 8, snapping a six-game losing streak for the Wildcats before they headed into the holiday break.

“It was a big night, we were in a losing streak and it was our last game before the break,’’ said Wilkes, who had 24 saves and allowed a first-period power play goal. “We were all really focused and we wanted to go home on a winning note.”

New Hampshire ended the first half of the season at 7-10-2 overall and 2-3-2 in Hockey East for a tie with Providence for fifth place in the seven- team conference.

Wilkes is 2-5-0 with a 2.33 goals against average and .908 saves percentage so far in her first season of college hockey. Her first win occurred in her first start — a 3-1 nonconference win at Penn State, where she registered 17 saves. “I think my main focus is focusing only on what I can control and not let myself get overwhelmed,’’ she said. “It helps going into the games with a calm mindset.”

The calm demeanor helped her earn the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week honor Nov. 18 for her performance in a 2-1 loss at Quinnipiac.

Wilkes recorded a career-high 27 saves against the then seventh-ranked Bobcats on Nov. 16 in New Hamden, Conn. Quinnipiac junior counterpart Chelsea Laden saw only eight shots from the Wildcats in the nonconference contest. “I think in that game, for myself, I wanted to go out and prove myself,” Wilkes said. “Even though we were outshot pretty hard, I wanted to let the team know that though I’m a freshman, I’m willing to do everything else that another player (upperclassman) would do.”

Her Wildcats teammates know that.

“It’s been awesome,’’ Wilkes said. “I automatically had 20 friends on campus.”

Campus Trails

Freshman guard and Hutchison graduate Mimi Wood contributed 10 points, two rebounds and two assists to the Skagit Valley College women’s basketball team’s 64-41 win over Kwantlan (British Columbia) on Sunday in Mount Vernon, Wash.

... Redshirt junior power forward and fellow Hutchison grad Kevin Rima had a game-high eight rebounds to go with his 17 points for the Northwest Nazarene University men’s team in an 88-82 win over Walla Walla University (Wash.) on Saturday in Nampa, Idaho. ... Junior guard and North Pole grad Eli Sponseller had two assists, a steal and a rebound for the Coast Guard Academy in a 78-76 overtime loss to the Merchant Marine Academy (N.Y.) on Dec. 11 in New London, Conn. • Sophomore left wing Mario Lucia, who was born in Fairbanks, got his team-high ninth goal for Notre Dame in a 3-2 loss to Massachusetts in a Hockey East men’s hockey game on Dec. 6 in Notre Dame, Ind. ... Sophomore left wing and Lathrop grad Whitney Wivoda has a goal and two assists in 18 games for the Bemidji State (Minn.) women’s team. ... Senior center and West Valley grad Zoe Kurth scored her second goal of the season for the St. Norbert College (Wis.) women in a 4-3 over Concordia University in Mequon, Wis., on Dec. 6.

• A pair of sophomores and Lathrop grads posted top-15 finishes in the Michigan Tech Christmas Classic Nordic skiing competition on Saturday and Sunday in Houghton, Mich.

Michigan Tech’s Kyle Hanson had back-to-back ninth-place finishes in the men’s 15-kilometer freestyle (45 minutes, 1 second) on Friday and the 10K classical (31:24.0). Northern Michigan’s Megan Edic placed 10th in the women’s 10K freestyle (35.37) and 11th in the 5K classical (18:35).

To contribute information, contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586 or email or on Twitter: @newsminersports

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