The Minnesota Whitecaps added a plethora of talent to their roster this off-season in an attempt to return to the Isobel Cup Final for the fourth time in four seasons. One of the additions, Ashleigh Brykailuk, is a name that women’s hockey fans know very well. Prior to signing with the Whitecaps the 26-year-old played in the CWHL for the Vanke Rays (2017-18) in between stints with the University of Minnesota-Duluth as a player (2013-17) and an assistant coach (2019-21). She was also drafted 12th overall in the 2016 NWHL Draft by the Boston Pride.
Brykailuk stepped away from coaching to return to school and as a side bonus, she earned an opportunity to play in the PHF. If she wasn’t doing the school thing would the Manitoba native have considered signing with the lone Canadian professional team?
“Right now it would depend if an opportunity came up. I do know a lot of players on the Six, but I enjoy Minnesota and I like being down here,” Brykailuk said. “So as long as the opportunity to play for the time being is in St. Paul, I’d rather stay in Minnesota. I do know a lot of the Toronto Six players, they’re a fun bunch. I’m excited to play them this season.”
Following the first of Minnesota’s two games in Connecticut, we caught up with Brykailuk for five questions (plus-one) in five minutes, and here’s how it went.
The Ice Garden: What led you to join the Whitecaps and did you know most of the team with so many ties to the area?
Ashleigh Brykaliuk: I’m back in school now so I took the opportunity to keep myself busy and play again as I’m pursuing my Master’s. It’s been super fun so far, being part of a team again has been awesome, I definitely missed it. Plus, getting to play with the Whitecaps - the top team in Minnesota, it’s fun to play with them.
A lot of them I played against in college, but through the hockey world, I knew or knew of most of them coming into this. I’ve actually gotten to know them quite a bit over the last month or so even more. It’s been great.
TIG: What was it like playing for Vanke in China?
AB: I had a great experience, a lot of fun. The North American crew that we had go over there as sport ambassadors were awesome. Definitely a cultural experience and getting to play hockey at the same time was pretty cool. To live in China and to experience a totally different culture than what I’m used to was fun. Also getting to train and help the Chinese team grow their game and prepare for the Olympics was pretty cool. Overall I really enjoyed it.
TIG: How picky are you with your food? Cause that’s something that can be an adjustment away from home.
AB: For breakfast, they eat a lot of noodles, hot stuff. I will say I came back (to the States) and I haven’t eaten meat since I’ve been over there. I’m a vegetarian now! Partly because of being over there and seeing different meats that I was not a fan of. That trip changed my diet a little bit I guess.
TIG: After today’s game in Connecticut you are five games into this thing; how do you feel you’ve blended in with this group?
AB: It’s been good so far with a month of practice and now getting our feet under us with some games, I think we're starting to come together. I think tonight was tough. If you ask anyone in our locker room - we were definitely not happy. We’re working on it, we have a lot of new faces on the team this year and we are slowly putting it together. We’ll keep working together towards playing better.
Did you know there are alumni coaches in both our men's and women's programs? Ashleigh Brykaliuk is an assistant coach for @UMDWHockey, graduating in 2017 as a two-time captain for the 'Dogs. Here's what she had to say about being back on the bench ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/VMT7wjGYNU— UMD Athletics (@UMDBulldogs) June 3, 2020
TIG: What has been the biggest or toughest adjustment for you thus far?
AB: I think, even when I came through college at UMD, the game from my freshman year to my senior year got so much faster, the players got stronger. So being out of the game and coming back to it - it’s even stronger, even faster now. It’s just adjusting to that, the physicality. It’s tough out there, people are throwing you around; you have to be able to stay on your feet and also be able to think and play fast. That’s the biggest adjustment I think. Play fast, and play tough.
TIG: I’ve noticed you’ve played center and wing so far this season, is one more comfortable than the other for you?
AB: In my collegiate career - I played half and half, so I’ve played both. Growing up I played more center, but I’m comfortable in both positions. Wherever they put me, I’m good.