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Left to right: Selena Stromer ’18, Jessica Schlaff ’19, Allie Patrick ’17, Lexi Pyykkonen ’18 and Kenna Farrey ’18.

Yooper Line Storms St. Norbert Hockey

New St. Norbert women’s hockey coach Meredith Roth began contacting her players after being named to the position in August. When Lexi Pyykkonen ’18 received her call, not only did she tell Roth about her hometown of South Range, Mich., but she let her know that “there are four more,” as in more varsity skaters from the state’s Upper Peninsula.

Pyykkonen is joined by fellow forwards Kenna Farrey ’18 and Jessica Schlaff ’19, both of Houghton, and Selena Stromer ’18, of Laurium. Along with defenseman Allie Patrick ’17 of Mohawk, they make up one-fifth of the 2015-16 Green Knights roster.

The five women grew up within a 20-mile radius and played together on the Keweenaw Storm, a Tier II traveling team.The journey to De Pere for the quintet actually started in San Jose, Calif., when the Storm was playing in nationals. That’s where they met founding St. Norbert women’s coach Rob Morgan. “I remember that they said something about this college and that someone would be out there, but we really didn’t know anything about St. Norbert,” says Pyykkonen.

The teammates never really considered college hockey during their youth. Their remote corner of the U.P. didn’t have a girls’program, so they all grew up playing against the boys and enjoyed the competition. The first girls’ team was formed from players representing four different high schools. They were all part of the inaugural Storm team, coached by Pyykkonen’s father and Patrick’s father.

“I used to get mad about going to practice,” says Patrick. “I didn’t want to play on the girls’ team.”

“By the second year, we didn’t want to be anywhere else,” says Pyykkonen.

Their nearest opponent was two hours away, so the team spent a considerable amount of time on the road, including frequent trips to Canada, downstate Michigan, Wisconsin and Chicago. “Once hockey season started, you didn’t make plans for the weekends,” says Patrick, the first to become a Green Knight when she joined the program in the fall of 2013.

“The girls on the team were really nice,” she says. “They make sure you are involved. That was awesome.”

Farrey, Pyykkonen and Stromer were part of a 12-player recruiting class last fall. They played together on the same line at times. “We had the Yooper line, that’s what they called us,” explains Stromer. “Coach would yell, ‘Yoopers, you’re up.’ We enjoy playing with each other.”

They receive some good-natured ribbing about being from the U.P. “Someone asked if we get Wi-Fi up there,” says Patrick.

Their teammates found an appreciation for their home community when the Green Knights played at Finlandia University in Hancock, Mich., last January. They rode snowmobiles and the parents of the then four U.P. players cooked team meals. “I think they all fell in love with the place,” says Pyykkonen.

Schlaff, the newcomer from the U.P., says that her transition to college is easier with some longtime friends on the team.

“It’s hard to get homesick when there are four others,” says Pyykkonen.

And for some who play on the Yooper line, the connections run even deeper. Teammates Pyykkonen and Farrey are also cousins. Pyykkonen and Stromer are also roommates. The families of the five teammates from the U.P. are also close friends.

Road trips when they played for the Keweenaw Storm helped build the family camaraderie. Green Knight matchups in the Midwest still allow family members to see several games. The trip from their home community takes approximately four hours. “All our parents now ride to our games together,” says Farrey. “If they are not at the game, they watch it online,” says Pyykkonen. “They are all loud so you know when they are at the games.” 

Oct. 31, 2015