ORONO, Maine — First-year head coach Molly Engstrom is already making big changes to the University of Maine’s women’s ice hockey team.
The 39-year-old former United States Olympian, chosen the best defenseman at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, just joined the team in August to replace Richard Reichenbach.
Reichenbach stepped down unexpectedly in late July after nine seasons. His assistant coach Sara Reichenbach, who is also his wife, resigned as well.
Reichenbach went 108-155-28, including a 72-117-24 regular season record in Hockey East and appearances in the Hockey East tournament semifinals the past three seasons.
“It has been a good change for our program,” said senior winger and 2021-22 scoring leader Ida Kuoppala, who added that Engstrom’s coaching style differs from that of Reichenbach.
“She wants us to play aggressively. Instead of just playing a set system, we can be more creative. I really like that because that fits my style better,” Kuoppala said. “She has played at a high level herself and has a lot of knowledge of the game.”
After a turbulent off-season that left the team without a coach a month before its first practice of the year, the UMaine women’s ice hockey team will open its season against the nation’s eighth-ranked club, 2021-22 NCAA quarterfinalist Quinnipiac on Friday night at 6 p.m. at the Alfond Arena in Orono. The teams will play again Saturday at 3 p.m.
The Black Bears beat the University of New Brunswick 3-2 in an exhibition game last weekend.
Engstrom, a Siren, Wisconsin, native who was an assistant coach at St. Cloud State from 2018-22, said the transition has gone smoothly.
“Everything has been amazing, honestly,” Engstrom said. “The team has been great, the leadership has been great. It’s just a matter of putting the work in on the ice to figure out what kind of changes we want to make.”
Senior center and captain Morgan Trimper from Bangor said Engstrom stresses efficiency and high intensity on the ice.
“She is very detail-oriented and I really appreciate that. It’s so important. You can’t really do bigger things unless you solidify the small things,” Trimper said. “Molly’s approach of having us have good habits and developing a solid foundation with those habits is going to help us develop our skills overall.”
Trimper said that Engstrom will slow down practice when necessary to teach the team how to execute properly the first time, which helps the players understand the bigger picture better.
She added that Engstrom and her new assistants, Kirsti Hussey and Gen Richardson, have integrated themselves into the team and that players have adapted to their style.
Senior defenseman and Danish National Team player Amalie Andersen called Engstrom’s presence a great change.
“It’s really good to have someone new, some new eyes to look at us and look at the game. It’s fun to transition into something else,” Andersen said. “We have more freedom now.”
That freedom includes more “read and react” play rather than specific plans to stick to, which Andersen said suits her and the team well.
“[Engstrom] and the assistants have come with a lot of new little skills for us to work on and it’s exciting to have three very competent coaches who can teach you a lot of new skills,” said Anderson, who has actually played against Engstrom in a Swedish league.
Andersen will return to the blue line after being moved up to forward her last two seasons at UMaine.
“I’m very glad to be back on defense. I’ve been there my entire life. It was a fun experience and challenge the last two years. But defense is where I am the most comfortable,” she said.
Engstrom said her team has good speed, especially on the front end, and that she has players who can handle the puck well.
“This week, we have put a lot of time and energy into the defensive zone and defending one-on-ones and staying on the right side of the puck because we need to be able to go the other way and get the puck in our forwards’ hands,” she said.
Trimper said all the players are on the “same page” and have all bought in to Engstrom’s philosophy and that has made it easier to lead the team.
“It’s going to be a good year,” predicted Andersen, who feels it has potential to be the best UMaine team she has played on.
“We have a lot of the same players and a lot of new players and we are being coached in a different way, which will bring out the best in us.”