University of Maine women's ice hockey player Morgan Trimper (3) skates against an opponent from the University of Vermont during a 2021-22 hockey game. Credit: Courtesy UMaine Athletics

Morgan Trimper is the daughter of a coach, so she knows about the difficult decisions that coaches have to make for the good of their program.

But the daughter of former University of Maine and current Stetson University baseball coach Steve Trimper and captain of the UMaine women’s ice hockey team said she was surprised and hurt when first-year head coach Molly Engstrom didn’t invite her back for a fifth season next year.

Trimper is one of 10 UMaine players with eligibility remaining who won’t be returning. Nine of them are in the NCAA Division I hockey transfer portal. Her twin sister, Ally, who is not in the portal, also has not been asked to return. Morgan said she is mulling her options.

“We had every intention of returning for our fifth year. Ally and I grew up here and have loved being part of the community and the program,” Morgan Trimper said. “We have given so much to it.”

Last summer, Morgan Trimper was tasked with leading the team during a difficult transition when head coach Richard Reichenbach and his wife and top assistant, Sara, resigned unexpectedly on July 29. Engstrom, a former U.S. Olympic star, was hired two weeks later.

Trimper spent time making sure veterans and newcomers felt secure and comfortable, and she tried to create a positive environment to make the transition easier for Engstrom. That history made it “disappointing”  to hear that she and others were not wanted next season.

Engstrom credited Morgan Trimper for her work during the transition, saying she did a “great job.” While she said her decision to part with players has been tough and something she hated doing, she noted five of the players leaving the team had already played four years of college hockey. The fifth year would be a bonus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Would I keep everyone if it was the right thing to do? Sure,” Engstrom said. “But we’re trying to build a [quality] team and we want to do that as quickly as possible.”

“Every new coach wants to bring in their own players. The coach has to ultimately make those decisions and you have to respect it and move forward,” Trimper said. “But it’s a sad thing to deal with.”

Morgan Trimper played in 34 games this season and had two goals and two assists. She centered the checking line and also was a penalty-killer. Ally Trimper had one goal and two assists in 35 games and was usually her linemate.

Among the UMaine players in the transfer portal are two of their best players, the twin freshmen forwards Luisa Welcke (33 games, 8 goals, 14 assists) and Lilli Welcke (33, 6 and 15), who are from Heidelberg, Germany, which has a population of 160,355. Both have played for the German national team and were chosen to the Hockey East All-Rookie team.

“[The Welcke twins] came to us and told us they wanted to go in another direction. They grew up in the city. Orono wasn’t the place for them. No amount of ice time would have kept them here,” Engstrom said. “They had a chance to visit Boston and they loved it.”

The others in the portal are senior defensemen Amalie Andersen, who only played in eight games due to injury; Nicole Pateman (24 games, 1 assist) and Grace Parker (13 games, 3 assists) and freshmen forwards Anna Caumo (24 games, 2 and 0), Ashley Bialas (13 games, 1 and 0) and Emma Gurnell (11 games and 0 points).

Trimper said Engstrom, a former U.S. Olympic star, is a good coach with a “very high hockey IQ and a lot of knowledge.” But she said communication was lacking, including promptness in letting players know who was in the lineup. There was also less approachability between the players and the coaches compared with the Reichenbachs.

molly engstrom takes over umaine women’s hockey team

“The culture and environment that she created was less than ideal,” Trimper said.

Engstrom said some players mentioned that they wanted to feel more attached and closer to the coaching staff and said one of the problems is that she and full-time assistant coaches  Kirsti Hussey and Gen Richardson were “stretched pretty thin” under the circumstances.

“I tried to make the players as comfortable as I could so they can perform to the best of their ability. We talked all year about building relationships,” the coach said. “But you can’t just snap your fingers [and build them]. It takes time and we were all going 100 miles an hour this year.”

Engstrom has seven recruits joining the program, five forwards and two defensemen, and is looking to bring in five more players.

“I’m excited about the players we have coming in,” she said.

UMaine went 15-18-2 this season, 12-13-2 in Hockey East, and lost to Providence 4-2 in the conference quarterfinals. They had five wins over nationally-ranked teams including a 1-0 triumph over Frozen Four semi-finalist and Hockey East champion Northeastern.