“Absolutely no shortcuts”: Bemidji State’s Clair DeGeorge comfortable with the long road

A leader for the Beavers since she came to campus, DeGeorge recently made her debut with the U.S. women’s senior team

One thing Clair DeGeorge has in common with the rest of her family is her athletic prowess. Her mother and older sister were both accomplished Division I swimmers. Her younger sister’s career as a long-distance swimmer is just beginning to blossom.

While Clair opted for the rink instead of the pool, her athletic pursuits really aren’t so different, when you think about it.

“She comes from a family that’s all in the water,” says Jim Scanlan, her head coach at Bemidji State. “Clair excels on water too, only it’s frozen.”

DeGeorge, now a junior, has been a top scorer for BSU since she came to campus, and she’s risen steadily through the USA Hockey ranks through the years as well. With DeGeorge helping to lead the way, the Beavers have already topped last year’s win total, and they’re on the cusp of posting a winning record for the first time since 2015-16.

After a slow start to the season that saw Bemidji State win just three of its first 12 games, the team ripped off a nine-game winning streak that ended in the Minnesota Cup championship game against host Minnesota Duluth. The next weekend, the Beavers hosted Wisconsin, and took down the No. 1 team in the country for the second year in a row.

DeGeorge featured heavily in that win, scoring two goals en route to a 3-2 victory. She helped Bemidji State gain a 2-0 lead in the first period. Then, after the Badgers tied things up in the second, she scored the game-winning goal to secure the upset.

“It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come; we started out the season and we lost some games that we knew that we should have won,” DeGeorge said. “I think we’ve been doing a much better job of working defensively and offensively together, instead of like, ‘Oh this is defense, this is offense, go do your separate things.’ We’ve all been having that 200-foot game mentality.”

DeGeorge has posted two two-goal performances in her last five games, against Wisconsin two weeks ago and against Minnesota State on Saturday. Still, she sees herself as more of a playmaker. She led the team in assists last season and is tied for the lead again with 11 so far this year.

That isn’t a coincidence. Where most players get a burst of euphoria when they score a goal, DeGeorge gets it from assisting on one.

“I love to look for those who are open,” she said. “I love to make plays. And you’ll see me in the corners battling. I love to get in those battles and get the puck out to my teammates.”

But, as her recent outings have shown, she has no trouble when she shoots the puck, either. DeGeorge’s coaches have encouraged her to shoot more often, and Scanlan readily acknowledges that she’s worked hard on that part of her game.

In fact, she’s never been shy about working to improve any part of her game. While pretty much every player at this level understands what it takes to perform in Division I hockey, her work ethic is something she takes especially seriously.

“It’s the one thing I’ve always [focused on], and it’s been ingrained in me from my parents,” DeGoerge said. “My dad always tells me, ‘If you’re going to make a mistake, do it going 110%.’

“If people are saying that about me, I always know that I’m doing my best and working my hardest.”

Her willingness to give her best is absolutely something that sticks out to her coaches and peers. It isn’t just on the ice, either. Scanlan says her approach is the same whether it’s in the weight room or in the classroom.

“Absolutely no shortcuts,” he said. “She literally attacks every drill we do. There’s certainly never any going through the motions or taking it easy. She goes hard all the time.”

DeGeorge’s drive has helped her steadily improve her game over the years, growing her confidence and strengthening her skillfulness against even the toughest opponents. All of those traits have helped her achieve an important milestone in her career: making her debut with the U.S. Women’s National Team in the Rivalry Series against Canada in December.

DeGeorge has been in the USA Hockey player pool since her high school days, at the Under-18 level. In 2017, she helped the U.S. team win gold at the IIHF U18 World Championship. She’s also joined the U.S. U22 team for its annual three-game series against Canada in 2018 and 2019.

In such a competitive player pool, the margin between those who make the cut and those left off of rosters is often very thin. There’s always pressure to perform at national camps, but it’s just as important to be receptive to feedback from coaches and continue improving in those areas. That’s a big reason why DeGeorge has been able to stick with the program and break in with the senior team.

“It’s a credit to her; she comes back from those camps really, really driven. It’s motivated her every single time,” Scanlan said. “After those camps...she’d take the feedback and she would definitely share that with us and those are things we would try to help her get better at through the course of the season.”

The first few times she was passed over for a spot on a senior team roster served as motivation for DeGeorge. She made sure she kept earning invites back and, after an excellent Winter Training Camp, was rewarded with a spot on the Rivalry Series roster. She suited up for Team USA’s 2-1 win in Moncton, New Brunswick.

“Every camp I feel like I’ve been getting better and better playing with the older girls and everything,” she said. “It’s not just going to happen overnight. And so you just have to keep working hard and getting better every single day. I like to say 1% better every day.”

“You just have to keep working hard and getting better every single day. I like to say 1% better every day.”

With Bemidji State, DeGeorge is a sure-fire top-line forward. Team USA’s forward group is so deep, though, that it’s common for first-line players to play a different role when they’re with the national team. Scanlan thinks she responded very well to that ask.

“She tracks back so well, and I think that if you were able to watch that game, what really stood out to me [was] her efforts coming back,” Scanlan said. “And then she’s really, really conscientious in the defensive zone.

“I think those are some areas certainly that they noticed, and I think that’s why she’s part of the group they’re looking at is because of her abilities to play in her zone and also be a force to play with players like [Hilary Knight and Dani Cameranesi] in the offensive zone.”

Getting the chance to suit up with the U.S. women’s national team was an exciting achievement, but DeGeorge has come back to Bemidji the same as after any other national team camp: with a renewed focus and drive to keep improving. There’s always been a marked intensity in her game, but Scanlan says that’s been turned up another notch the last few games.

“I think since coming back from that, she just seems to be a little more forceful, just a little more confident in herself in the way she’s playing, and the way she’s pushing the pace,” he said. “The energy she brings literally will tilt the ice for us just about every shift.”

DeGeorge is a native of Anchorage, Alaska, and played most of her hockey growing up with the Alaska All Stars Hockey Association. She played her prep hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, in Faribault, Minn. She decided to join the Beavers program because she knew she could play hockey at a high level while still having the flexibility needed to focus on her studies and future career in medicine. She’s working on her BSN and plans to go into nursing after graduation.

“I did want to have something set up right when I get out of college, so nursing was a great option,” DeGeorge said. “I just love caring for people and and it challenges me for sure. But I mean, you always have to have a challenge or else life would be a little boring sometimes.”