Girls hockey: Smallbrock hopes to lead Dodge County on another playoff run
KASSON — Olivia Smallbrock lives and breathes hockey.
She also knows there will come a time when hockey won’t be the only thing she’ll want to live and breathe.
Smallbrock’s mindset has always been that way — understanding that she needs to do what’s best for her future. That’s why her decision to play Division III college hockey when she had a handful of Division I schools knocking on her door didn’t surprise her high school coach.
“Sometimes kids don’t get as much playing time at D-1, maybe don’t always have as much fun,” Dodge County head coach Jeremy Gunderson said. “Liv had some D-1 offers to be a walk-on or to go out east … and sometimes the financial part of it comes into play.
“She took the time to look at what she wants to do after hockey. She visited a lot of D-3 schools — they were all recruiting her heavily — and I told her ‘you’ll know it when you find it.’”
That was the case for Smallbrock as soon as she stepped onto the Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus.
“I went on so many college visits, it was hard to keep them straight,” she said. “When I got to (Eau Claire), I thought ‘I love this place. There’s nothing bad about it.’ I went to a lot of places where you come away with a list of pros and cons, but with (Eau Claire) everything just fell into place and was perfect.”
Smallbrock has business to take care of with Dodge County before moving to her college career, though. She enters her senior season as a team captain and its top returning scorer. She put up career highs in goals (14), assists (19) and points (33) last season and hopes to improve on that while centering the Wildcats’ top line as a senior.
“She has good size, she’s a natural goal-scorer,” Gunderson said. “She’s always on time, constantly in the weight room, does all our summer programs and is a player you can always depend on.
“She’s a great student, big academic goals. She’s kind of a quiet leader, great leader by example. When she does talk, her teammates listen because she doesn’t always say a lot.”
LOADS OF EXPERIENCE
Smallbrock has played on some successful teams and with some successful players during her time with the Dodge County varsity. She has played in two section championship games, both narrow Dodge County losses, and in a four-overtime section semifinal loss to Lakeville South two years ago.
Smallbrock said she has learned from those painful losses and has learned even more from the captains on the Dodge County teams in her early seasons with the program.
“When I was younger and came to the team, I always watched the leaders who worked and showed us how to do things by example,” she said. “They weren’t always yelling, they were just there as someone you could look up to and talk to.
“Moments where you find yourself in tough situations — like in games, if it’s tied late in a game — and you come together and beat those good teams, you show how good you are if you work together and play as a team.”
Gunderson said the Wildcats will rely on Smallbrock to be a leader for the team’s younger players, helping in the way the leaders before her did.
“She’s a captain, so we need her to lead on and off the ice, academically, just be a good kid, like she is,” Gunderson said, “show the younger kids what it takes to be a captain in our program, the work ethic and character that she has.
“On the ice, we want her to score goals. She does that well, she fits that role and plays hard two-way hockey. She always does a great job in the defensive zone, but she’s a natural goal-scorer and she has good linemates who will help her.”
While it feels a bit surreal to be a senior, Smallbrock said she’s ready to make her last season with Dodge County her best yet.
“I feel like yesterday I was just in ninth grade,” she said, “and it’s crazy to think now that we’re the older kids we used to look up to.”