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NCAA playoff race heats up for Red Deer defenceman


9 minute read

by Rob Gilgan

It’s all on the line Saturday for Abagael Thiessen as the 18 year-old guards the blue line to start the second round of the NCAA playoff drive. Her team, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (UND), won the best-of-three first round, taking out the Ohio State Buckeyes, but now face a much tougher foe, the top-seeded University of Wisconsin Badgers in a must-win WCHA semi-final.

When the Fighting Hawks faced the Badgers last month, they held them to the fewest shots on goal all season, but bowed out by a single goal. Both January meetings, on the road for the Fighting Hawks, were one-goal games, upping the ante for Saturday’s matchup.
If the Fighting Hawks (16-15-6) get past the Badgers, (29-2-4), they’ll suit up Sunday against the winner of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, who ride 26-6-5 and 24-5-5 records, respectively, into the playoffs. Two wins this weekend and the Fighting Hawks punch their ticket into the NCAA quarterfinals, where they’d compete to make the 2017 Final Four and a national championship.

Abagael believes UND saw her as a steady defenseman who could come in and play right away, and she’s done that, playing in 34 of the team’s 37 games. “They saw a lot of potential, I think. They knew some of my goals, and it wasn’t ‘Come here and you’ll play’, it was ‘Come here and you’ll get better’. They knew that I could be a better player than I was, coming out of Midget.”

The journey to Abagael’s first NCAA playoff started in Red Deer, when, as a Bantam player, she switched to girls’ hockey. “I became aware that there was an opportunity for me afterward. Some of the girls, like Amanda Young or Kendice Ogilvie went to Cornell, which is another NCAA division one school. Seeing that they could do it, I started making that a goal of mine,” she explained. “I would say my hockey is kind of driving my education, just because I picked my college based on it being a professional career, I guess I chose (UND) for hockey first, for education second.”

She played four years of Midget in Red Deer, culminating with a silver medal in the Esso Cup, hosted by her Sutterfund Midget AAA Female Chiefs. She’s also been part of the U18 Team Alberta and has competed with the Canadian national team. “There are lots of national team players in our conference so playing against them game in and game out makes a huge difference. It forces you to be better. I’ve gotten a lot more confident, making plays that maybe I wouldn’t have made in Midget, getting stronger and just getting better, in general. As a young kid, you can’t come in and expect to be on the top line, especially at such a competitive school. The coaches were pretty honest and said I’d be coming in and competing for spot, that I wouldn’t have a spot given to me, I’d have to come in and work for it.”

Abagael is in her freshman year, studying business with a Pre-investment major, with a double minor in economics and sport business. She travelled to North Dakota in May of 2016, moving into an apartment and taking classes through the summer. Having 3 months to get used to the change before hockey started in September eased her into her new home and team. She and eight other girls got together over the summer, to skate and stay in condition.

Arriving in North Dakota, she was one of the younger players and needed to get used to that role and not get discouraged, plus make the adjustment to living away from home for the first time. “The girls really help with that,” she says,” adding, “They welcome you, they help you out, same with the coaches, they did a really good job of taking care of us right from the start, making sure we were ready.”

Statistically, she’s had a good year so far, picking up 4 assists in 34 games and getting 21 shots on goal. On December 20, she was named Rookie of the Week, having recorded a career-high two-point outing in a 5-0 win at Lindenwood four days earlier. On paper, Saturday’s game is a bit of a mismatch, but that doesn’t dampen Abagael’s aspirations. The Fighting Hawks might be guilty of a little complacency with a weaker opponent, but come to play when the competition picks up. “We’ve struggled a bit against the lower-end teams, but we always give the higher-end teams a run for their money.”

Half way through the season, Abagael was confident the team could go deep in the playoffs. “I think we should go pretty far, hopefully. We’re a pretty good team, we have a tough conference, it’s always a team from our conference that wins the national championship.”

Abagael is on a full-ride scholarship at UND and maintains that with five courses per semester, which translates into about 10 hours per week of classes. Add out of class study time and 15 hours per week of practice and conditioning and a pair of games pretty much every weekend and it’s a busy, involved schedule. “The big difference is how much time you spend on the ice. I was never on the ice every day in high school; we’re on the ice every day and we work out two times a week, depending on when we play. It made me realize how much work goes into being a high level athlete.”

She plans to spend three more years at UND, completing her degree, but also moving ahead as a player. Her current role, as a freshman, is to play the game simply and maximizing her impact defensively. “Hopefully, in the next couple of years, I can transition into a more involved role, but for now it’s stay at home, steady, consistent.” She doesn’t have a specific academic game plan, but knows she will have plenty of options, potentially going on to law, or the financial side of sports. The four-time honour roll Notre Dame High School graduate continues her academic performance at UND, on the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll for Fall 2016.

The WCHA (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) includes teams from North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio and is the perennial NCAA women’s hockey champion. The team has also travelled out of conference for games and hosted other out of conference teams at Grand Forks. The Fighting Hawks play in an impressive arena and attract 500-1000 fans to games, depending on the opponent. “I think some of us younger girls realized how privileged we are to play at the rink we’re at and the town we’re at; we get good crowds and we have a spectacular rink, we go to some other places and really appreciate what we have at home.”

Check out Abagael’s game Saturday: CLICK HERE  

Visit the Fighting Hawks on the web: CLICK HERE


UND Women Hockey v Minnesota State Mankato 10/14/2016 at Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND.

UND Women Hockey v Minnesota State Mankato 10/14/2016 at Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND.

Photos courtesy UND Sports 


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Local Sports

Today: Come meet Red Deer’s Silver Medalist Rebecca Smith

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Submitted by Tourism Red Deer

Come celebrate with us and congratulate Red Deer’s own Rebecca Smith.

Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Tourism Red Deer invite you to meet Red Deer’s Summer Olympic Silver Medalist Rebecca Smith!

Rebecca was a part of Team Canada’s 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay swim team at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.  She’ll be here to meet, greet, and show off her hardware.

Where: Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, 102-4200 Highway 2, Red Deer

When:  Wednesday, August 25, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

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City of Red Deer

Access to Dawe Centre pool and community centre affected by expansion project – Details

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Limited access to G.H. Dawe Community Centre this summer due to construction

Due to construction, access to the G.H. Dawe Community Centre will be limited this summer, with a full closure planned for August.

As announced yesterday, City recreation centres are opening fully to the public as of July 1. With construction underway at the G.H. Dawe Community Centre, only limited services and areas will be available.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Starting July 2, fitness and gym areas will open from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., daily. In July, summer day camps that normally operate from the Dawe will operate from other facilities.
  • The pool will remain closed until September.
  • To accommodate interior heating and ventilation construction, the facility will fully close from July 26 to August 31. Some registered preschool and summer camp programming may proceed, but no rental or general admission options will be available.
  • On September 1, we anticipate the pool will be open, but some other amenities, like the gym, may not be available. More information will be provided as construction progresses.
  • Playing surfaces in the arena will not be available until construction is complete, which is expected to be early 2023.

We are currently offering a discounted monthly Value Pass for $27 for adults ($24.50 for seniors; $21.90 for students; $19.30 for youth; $14.20 for children, and $60.50 for a family. It provides unlimited access to all facilities. As of August the Value Pass will only provide access to the Recreation Centre and Michener Aquatic Centre; however, access to the Dawe will be included in the Value pass until the pool, gym and fitness areas are open.

About the G.H. Dawe Community Centre Project

Work is underway now on the G.H. Dawe Community Centre Project and some exciting changes are in store. We expect to welcome visitors to the transformed space in early 2023. Here’s just some of what you can expect:

  • Two NHL standard playing surfaces
  • Expanded fitness areas, including a running track
  • Outdoor spray park with washroom facilities
  • Improved accessibility
  • Additional north entrance + site access from 67 Street
  • Additional parking

During construction, there will be some changes and impacts to existing amenities and programs, and we’ll do you best to share this information in advance. Thanks for your patience as we complete this work.

For more information about the project, please visit

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