Defense proves to be a key to success for ASU women's hockey

ASU women's hockey has three defensemen to begin the season, but that has not stopped the Sun Devils thus far

Last year, ASU women’s hockey used three defensemen. This year, the Sun Devils have the same number of defensemen, but they are getting some extra help from an unlikely place.

Sophomore Brooke Kelsall, sophomore Molly Potter and senior KC McGinley are the three defensemen for ASU women’s hockey this season. 

To make up for the limited number of defenseman, junior forward Taylor England, senior forward Dannika Borges and sophomore forward Alyssa Ayers all stepped up and played on the blue line during ASU’s 4-1 win over Grand Canyon University on Sep. 23. 

Head coach Lindsey Ellis liked what she saw out of her player’s versatility.

“There are three or four (players) that we kind of have on our radar to switch back and forth between (defense) and forward,” Ellis said. “They have that forward mindset – they attack more.”

That attack mentality definitely proved to be true on Saturday night in ASU’s first win of the season. England had two assists and Borges tallied a goal for the Sun Devils while Ayers had a solid performance throughout the night.

“It’s huge for our players to be able to step up that way,” Ellis said. “We are a little short on (defense) right now so to have a few players step up on forward and (defense) is good for us.”

While the role was different for England, the move to defense came as no surprise. Ellis let England know that she might be playing on the blue line when practice started at the beginning of this season. 

England did not see any time as a defenseman last year for ASU, but she played stints on her club hockey team in Colorado when she was younger.

“I have played defense just here and there, but never for a whole period like that,” England said. “I’ve been practicing for the last two weeks to prepare playing defense, but never for that long of a time during a game.”

Being that England, Ayers and Borges are natural forwards, they found themselves jumping up in the offensive zone at certain points throughout the weekend. However, Ellis was pleased with her team’s communication and how they handled the situation. 

“It was interesting,” Ellis said. “When one of our forwards that were playing (defense) did step up in the offensive zone, we had another forward step back. It was quite the rotation that we are not really used to, but that’s going to be normal for us this year.”

England started on the blue line in the first period of Saturday night’s contest with GCU, but Borges took over in the second period, and Ayers played defense in the third period. 

The forwards were paired with Potter, who was a calming defensive presence for the Sun Devils.

“Molly was a great (defensive) partner because she knows that I was stressing,” England said. “She helped me and backed me up when I needed it, and even when she caught me down low, she would cover for me. She was kind of playing two positions at once, but I mean when I got back up, I handled it pretty well.”

Although Potter was given a variety of defense partners, she thought the three forwards fit into their new positions well.

“I think that we work really well together and have good chemistry,” Potter said. “That definitely helps.”

As for the other defense pairing, Kelsall and McGinley worked in harmony to keep pucks out of the way of their sophomore goaltender, Jordan Nash-Boulden. Nash-Boulden made 39 saves on 40 shots on Saturday, and she praised her teammates for keeping traffic out of her way in front of the net.

“I always listen to her (Nash-Boulden) – she is always in the back of my head,” Kelsall said. “She will be telling me when to move or not, and she will tell me what to do … she is like a little person on the back of my shoulder.”

Kelsall and McGinley were defense partners both games against GCU over the weekend.

“She (McGinley) knows where to go, and she always reads where I am going,” Kelsall. “She just covers me no matter what I am doing.”

While the movement of forwards to the defensive zone might pose a learning curve, ASU sure didn’t show any signs of struggle over the weekend. The forwards will continue to be relied upon throughout the season.

“I am a type of player that doesn’t like to make mistakes, but I know hockey is a game of mistakes,” England said. “Practicing the past two weeks has been easier for me to prepare for these past games. I’m going to keep practicing and rotating through (defense) in practice to prepare for the games in the future.”

Up next, ASU will take on the University of Colorado-Boulder on October 6 at 10:10 p.m. at Oceanside Arena in Tempe.


Reach the reporter at atbell1@asu.edu or follow @AndrewBell7 on Twitter.

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