Sticks Up

Freshman plays on nationally ranked hockey team


photo courtesy of Lauren Lacroix

Freshman Lauren Lacroix takes a shot late in the third period.

Madelyn Augustine, News Director

With nothing on her mind besides the upcoming game, freshman Lauren Lacroix finished lacing up her skates and hopped onto the ice. Even though Lacroix was one of the only freshman on the Omaha Lady Jr. Lancers 19u A hockey team, it didn’t hold her back from proving herself on the ice every game.

Lacroix started playing hockey five years ago. She had previously played soccer, volleyball and track, but nothing compared to the passion she had for hockey. Lacroix made the decision to quit the other three sports and solely focus on perfecting her skills on the ice. This year was Lacroix’s second season with the Lancers, she had first joined the team as an eighth grader. She was encouraged by her family to pursue her hockey career further.

“I started playing hockey because my dad played and I have always looked up to him,” Lacroix said. “I grew up around the sport and I honestly couldn’t imagine my life without hockey in it. It’s such a unique sport compared to everything else that I’ve tried.”

Out of 80 teams in their division, Lacroix’s team was ranked 26 in the nation as a Tier II team. A Tier II team is one that provides a competitive opportunity for the elite player on a nationwide basis and competes in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). Lacroix and her team traveled across the country nearly every weekend to compete in league games and in tournaments. The schedule can be grueling, but for Lacroix it wasn’t the schedule that made the transition to playing up three age groups difficult.

“I’m one of the youngest girls on the team,” Lacroix said. “I would definitely say that it was a struggle to get used to everyone always being older, taller and stronger than I am. I was a little timid at first, but I just kept working both in practice and outside of practice to get stronger. The more time I spent with the team, the more comfortable I got and I just kept telling myself that I was good enough to play with these girls.”

Lacroix was one of nine forwards on the Omaha Lady Jr. Lancers team. This meant that she was relied on to take faceoffs and covering the middle of the ice at both ends of the rink. Lacroix was also primarily depended on as a goal scorer. Although Lacroix is smaller than most of her competitors, her teammates, like junior Kayla Flanigan, have never seen it hold her back in her game.

“Every game we know she [Lacroix] is going to be consistent in her game and give everything she can to help the team,” Flanigan said. “Whenever she is on the ice she creates a lot of good scoring chances. Lauren brings a lot of offense to the team but also takes pride in supporting the puck and playing down low in the defensive zone. Lauren is one of the hardest working players I know, she is always battling for loose pucks and going to areas of the ice where she knows she is going to get beat up to help the team out.”

Lacroix’s ultimate source of motivation came from her other teammates, like senior Torrie Murcek. Lacroix’s teammates were constantly pushing her to improve day in and day out.

Lauren is hard working and pushes herself to be better not only for her, but also the team,” Torrie Murcek said. “She contributes so much to the team and is one of our most competitive and committed players. I’m so glad that she’s a part of the Lady Lancer family. Lauren brings a lot of energy on the ice and in the locker room. Her strengths are definitely her work ethic and her commitment.”

Despite the fact that Lacroix was only a freshman, thanks to all of her hard work, she was already a college prospect. Lacroix’s dedication to the sport was one of the key factors that helped coach Jim Murcek to decide to put Lacroix on the 19u A team.

“The first things I noticed about Lauren were her athletic ability and her competitiveness,” Jim Murcek. “Our team plays on a national platform, so we’re highly competitive. If there’s a younger girl that has more talent than a senior, we’re going to take the younger player. In Lauren’s case, she embraced the fast nature of our style of play and has really grown in her role on our team. She has never allowed her age to hold her back.”

For Lacroix, the benefits of playing hockey extended past being on the ice. In the past Lacroix was shy, but hockey has helped her become more outgoing and taught her how to create and maintain bonds with her teammates. Lacroix credited hockey to shaping her into the person she is today and realizes that she would not be herself if she never made the decision to lace up her skates five years ago.