‘Throwback’ Nelson powers Ponies to Hockey Day win
The Stillwater girls soccer season came to an end the morning of Nov. 3 when the Ponies lost 2-1 against Suburban East Conference rival Mounds View in the Class AAA third-pace game.
It also happened to be the first week of hockey season.
Granted the OK by Ponies girls hockey head coach Annie Cashman to take the team’s afternoon practice off, junior Brooke Nelson strolled into St. Croix Valley Rec Center just a few hours after her soccer season had ended ready to start her winter sport.
Cashman describes Nelson as a bit of a throwback. In this day and age of the specialized athlete, Nelson is one of the state’s best soccer players and also excels on the ice.
And she does it while maintaining a low-maintenance attitude.
“She wants zero attention, zero accolades,” Cashman said. “She just wants to be there for her sisters and go out and play.”
In the midst of an impactful campaign for the ninth-ranked Ponies, Nelson had a bit of a coming out party on Hockey Day, scoring four goals, including a natural hat trick in the first period, in an 8-3 win over host White Bear Lake.
Four of Nelson’s junior classmates are already committed to Division I schools to play hockey, and if she put her mind to it, Nelson could likely make it five.
Not bad for her “part-time job,” as Cashman describes it.
“She’s about as good of an athlete as you’ll come by,” said Ponies senior captain Avery Braunshausen. “She’s excelled in soccer since we were iddy-iddy-biddy. She excels in hockey. Having someone like that on our hockey team, and someone that knows what it’s like to play on a team that makes a state tournament, that knowledge is helpful.”
Nelson insists her soccer skills translate on the ice and make her a better hockey player.
“I think I’m able to see the ice differently than other people,” Nelson said. “In soccer, it’s all about finding space, and I can translate that on the ice, finding the puck in spaces that people don’t really expect you to.”
Nelson is one member of an outstanding junior class where she, admittedly, flies a bit under the radar, something she’s perfectly fine with.
Josie St. Martin started the month with the U.S. National Team in Sweden and is headed for Ohio State. Addison Finn will play collegiately at Boston University, Josie Lang will attend Providence and Myah Krueger, who did not play at Hockey Day, is committed to St. Cloud State.
“I’ve played with a lot of these girls since I was really little,” Nelson said. “So for me, I’m just going out to play with my friends and do our thing.”
With all of that junior talent on its roster, Nelson’s Hockey Day performance showcases exactly what makes the Ponies dangerous as section time approaches.
On any given day, someone new can help carry the load, whether it’s one of their junior superstars, or one of its senior leaders.
“Brooke is a great player and we’re all super proud of her. But it just as easily could have been Josie or that whole junior class,” Braunshausen said. “Our whole team is so talented. Today it was Brooke.
“It’s one of things that makes us so successful and why our team excels, when we’re all using each other’s strengths. One of the things about our team is we all have different strengths and we have lots of moving parts.”
At Hockey Day, Nelson found herself on the business end of a collision early on that left her down on the ice and slow to the bench.
After laboring back to her teammates and shaking off the trainer, it didn’t take Nelson to exact revenge.
One shift, to be exact.
Her next time on the ice, Nelson scored her first goal, one that gave Stillwater a 2-1 lead, an advantage it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way.
“When I scored, I was good,” Nelson said.
So was Stillwater.
It’s early one-goal deficit was the first time this season the Ponies had trailed in a conference game, but it’s the kind of adversity that could come in handy as sections approaches.
When section play begins early next month, Stillwater will likely start with either Woodbury or East Ridge, two teams that have hung tough in both meetings this season.
Should the Ponies win there, potential semifinal and final foes could include rivals Hill-Murray and Gentry Academy, two of the best girls hockey programs in Minnesota.