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Stecklein 'fit right in' practicing with Wild

United States Olympian earns praise from coach Boudreau as part of Girls Hockey Weekend in Minnesota

by Jessi Pierce / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Lee Stecklein found herself in familiar territory during Minnesota Wild practice at TRIA Rink on Sunday.

The defenseman and two-time United States Olympian who won a gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games also won the Isobel Cup for Minnesota of the National Women's Hockey League in the same facility last year. She returned to practice with the Wild to conclude the fourth annual Girls Hockey Weekend in Minnesota, which included clinics and dryland training for 8U, 10U and 12U Minnesota girls hockey teams.

"I haven't been back at TRIA since, so a lot of good memories coming in here," said Stecklein, a three-time national champion at the University of Minnesota and member of the U.S. Women's National team. 

In past years, the Wild have included U.S. Women's team members Natalie Darwitz, Krissy Wendell and Hannah Brandt in their practices. Brandt, who also also won gold in Pyeongchang, shared some advice with her teammate.

"(Brandt) said watch out for the visor," Stecklein said. "We're so used to the full cage that she said that took a little bit of an adjustment but otherwise she said it was going to be really fun, really exciting, that everyone would be really nice." 

A native of Roseville, Minnesota, Stecklein grew up a Wild fan, keeping a close eye on forward Marion Gaborik in her youth and transitioning to defenseman Ryan Suter. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau compared her to defenseman Jonas Brodin.

"That's Brodin out there, the tall blonde," Boudreau said. "I think it's fabulous (to host Girls Hockey Weekend). I think the more girls that play, the better it is. We want our sport to grow and it's just not guys that play, we want everyone to play. And we think we got the best sport going, and as you can see with her, she can play. Other than the fact we knew she was female, she's tall and she fit right in. I hope they continue to grow and grow the game everywhere." 

Stecklein is preparing for the next round of the 2019-20 Rivalry Series against Canada in Victoria, British Columbia on Feb. 3. The United States defeated Canada in the first two of the five-game series (4-1 and 2-1). In between, she appreciated the time given to her by the Wild.

"It's really awesome knowing that the Wild have done this now for four years," she said. "We're looking to grow the girls' game in any way we can, and they are too, so to be included in this and be a part of that, I know my teammates and I really value that."

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