Lindsay Czech was preparing for hockey practice with her Wayzata High School teammates the other day, but she needed a little help in getting her equipment on. Oh, she had no trouble with things like skates and pads, but assistance was required as she attempted to put on the finishing touches: a grass skirt and, uh, a coconut bra.
The occasion was the first annual Trojan Games for the team, a workout devoted to fun drills and challenges, with the players in costume. There were princesses and cows and NBA jerseys and, yes, Hawaiian outfits.
The most important thing, however, was that Lindsay was on the ice with her teammates. Light skating at practice is as far as she will get this season; a knee injury suffered shortly before practice began in October put a stake through her senior year. She was cleared to skate again last week, but what a rotten break for one of the top players in the state.
“It’s definitely been really difficult,” she said. “It’s been a test of mental toughness and just keeping the faith a little bit.”
A sense of humor never hurts, either, and Lindsay is well-equipped in that area. As she was describing what she’s been through she added with a giggle (and a slight cough), “Oh, I had influenza A last week, too. I have really good luck.”
She can laugh about it now, but things weren’t quite so comical at the time of her injury. She was playing powder puff football at Wayzata, carrying the ball and running. Attempting to change directions, she planted her left leg and the knee went kaboom. Torn ACL. “It hurt right away,” she said.
It took a few days for MRI results to confirm the worst: No senior hockey season for Lindsay Czech. Phone calls followed, the first one to Wayzata coach Jess Christopherson. Then one to Minnesota Duluth coach Maura Crowell. Czech had already accepted a scholarship to UMD, and Crowell immediately put to rest any fears that the star defensive player’s scholarship might evaporate.
“In terms of how it affects our program and things like that, I didn’t worry about that at all,” Crowell said. “I was concerned about her. As a captain and a senior leader on her team, it was a pretty devastating blow to her. Timing-wise, it was early in her senior year. By the time she gets here, she’ll be healthy.”
Lindsay is a well-decorated hockey player. She was invited to the Under-18 Women’s National Festival as one of the top players in the nation, is a two-time Under-18 Select Camp attendee and was part of the Under-18 National Development Camp. She is a four-year letterwinner at Wayzata and earned all-Lake Conference honors as a sophomore and junior. She committed to UMD before her junior season.
Crowell is in her second season as the head coach at UMD after serving as associate head coach at Harvard. She coached Czech at a Under-16 national camp and got to know her.
“She stands out as such a fun, goofy kid to have in the locker room. Then when I came here she was in the recruiting pipeline. She was my first scholarship recruit here and that means something to me. She signed on with us well before we were ranked No. 2 in the country, and we’ll always remember that. We expect her to be an impact player here.”
Wayzata lost 12 seniors from last year’s team and Christopherson is in her first year as their head coach. Czech and fellow seniors Natalie Heising (who has signed with Penn State) and Jackie Russo are captains on a roster filled with young players. Heising recently returned from a stint with Team USA at the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championships.
Czech was named a captain after her injury, which confirmed how important she is to her teammates and coaches.
“Not only does she come to practice every single day, she registered and paid for hockey, even though she will not play one second of hockey this year,” Christopherson said. “She’s there every single day. If she’s going to be late she will call or email like any other kid. She sits on the bench and she’s coaching kids for us. I think it’s been a little different angle for her to see things and learn more about the game. It’s been a real positive thing. She’s kind of rallied around this.”
In fact, having the opportunity to see the game from a coaching angle has made Lindsay consider becoming a coach.
“I think it’s been kind of a blessing,” she said. “I’ve gotten to know an amazing coaching staff at Wayzata, and I want to come back and coach someday with Jess and for Wayzata. It’s a different environment, not being a player and hanging out more with the coaches.
“My team has been so unbelievably supportive, too. When I went out on the ice they were so excited. That’s so awesome.”
Even though she’s back on skates, Lindsay and everyone else knows she will not be in uniform again until she is a college player.
“There’s no chance she’ll get in a game,” Christopherson said. “This is a kid who will be an impact player at the next level. It would be irresponsible to put her on the ice during the season.”
Except, of course, for some light skating at practice, grass skirt included.
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