While having a star player might be the wish of every team, it doesn’t always come to fruition. But when a team is lucky enough to have a star or even multiple stars, the spotlight shining on these players may keep potential key players hiding in the shadows.
That was the case of Wisconsin women’s hockey junior forward Blayre Turnbull for the first two years of her career. Turnbull came into the Badgers’ program after attending one of the most elite hockey prep schools in the country in Shattuck-St. Mary’s—the same school NHL star Sidney Crosby played at before his professional career began. In her junior year with Shattuck, Turnbull tallied 60 points on 30 goals and 30 assists in just 52 games, evidence of the type of offensive prowess she is capable of.
But in her first two seasons with Wisconsin, Turnbull played behind some of best players to ever come through the Wisconsin hockey program, Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker, who are first and second all-time for scoring in a UW career respectively.
So after a stellar high school career as one of the stars, Turnbull found herself in a role with the stars soaking up the majority of the playing minutes and offensive contributions.
During her freshman year, Turnbull had a respectable 14 points on seven goals and seven assists but that was nothing compared to the 82 points from Decker that season. The following year, Turnbull’s production dropped by nearly half as she only recorded eight points on the season and only three goals.
But with Knight graduating two years ago and Decker graduating last season, Turnbull and the Badgers have found themselves in an unfamiliar situation with no go-to star, which they have had in seasons past, creating a great chance for new players who were once in the shadows to emerge.
“Last year, you’re playing behind Decker and maybe some other players over the first two years, whereas this year it’s more of a leadership role. She’s grabbed that and done very well with that,” head coach Mark Johnson said.
As Johnson said, Turnbull has broken out this season, not just in terms of her offensive numbers, but the role she possesses on the team, which includes assistant captain duties.
Johnson admitted he didn’t really know who would step up this season with the health of junior forward, and Turnbull’s linemate, Brittany Ammerman in question after sitting out almost all of last year with a concussion.
Not only has Ammerman returned strong from injury, but Turnbull too has roared on to a key role and hasn’t looked back since the beginning of the season.
“She’s just stepped right in there,” Ammerman said of Turnbull, the first line center. “She had it in her in high school and when you come into a program like this that has a lot of superstars your freshman, sophomore year you have to find a different role. And so when you get to be an upperclassmen again, you can bring out your scoring and you get put on power play and penalty kill and it gives you more minutes to do that.”
But how has a player like Turnbull made such a drastic shift on the way to scoring more points this season (31) than she did in her first two years combined (22)?
As she explained, the elevation of Turnbull’s play might be attributed to something as small as a change in mindset.
“My mental game is just elevated a lot,” she said. “I have a lot more confidence in myself and I know my teammates have confidence in me too. It makes me feel prepared so when I step on the ice I’m ready to go.
“Last year I was really focused on setting goals each game and I think that affected me negatively because if I didn’t reach those goals then I would just stress out and be down on myself. I wouldn’t feel confident in myself and my abilities. This year I scratched that idea and [I] just go on the ice and play every shift that’s given to me.”
That change in mindset for Turnbull was a work in progress that took two years to bring about through all the ups and downs of her first two seasons that helped her to prepare for her newfound role this year.
Turnbull’s development into one of Wisconsin’s key players this season—she is currently second on the team in goals (16), assists (18) and points (34)—has been a process, and certainly not something that happened overnight.
“I think with any player it’s a process. It’s a journey,” Johnson said. “For a flower, it takes a while and sometimes you don’t get enough sun or enough water—it takes a little bit longer. If you stay true to what you want to do and eventually you’re going to get rewarded. The thing for her…is to get off to a good start. By doing that, it puts confidence in you that ‘I can do these things.’ ”
Last weekend was one of her biggest series yet, as Turnbull almost singlehandedly won the Badgers’ game with her two shorthanded goals against Minnesota State-Mankato last Friday. Those two goals came in the first period and was the first time any Badger has done that in a season, and also gave Turnbull five shorthanders on the year, a UW single season record. That single game feat earned her the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week award, the second time she has been honored this season.
With a fairly young team and without the presence of a superstar, it’s hard to say where the No. 2 Badgers would be without the production of Turnbull. Thankfully, Johnson doesn’t have to ponder that question for now.
“One of the reasons we’re in our position is players like Blayre, who has been working hard since she came as a freshman in the summer to go to summer school. It’s nice to see her not only get off to a good start but have a really good season,” Johnson said.
If the Badgers are going to continue their success in the postseason, they’ll need big time contributions from all the players they can get, and Turnbull will be at the forefront.