Chilliwack’s Kate Klassen bears down on a New Brunswick player during a quarter-final match at the 2019 Canada Winter Games. (Brandon White Photo)

TOP STORIES 2019: Chilliwack’s Kate Klassen commits to UConn Huskies women’s hockey squad

After one more year with the JWHL Pacific Steelers, Klassen makes the jump to the NCAA ranks.

The University of Connecticut Huskies knew they wanted Kate Klassen in their female hockey fold, and they didn’t want to wait to get her.

So, a year before she even graduates from high school, the Chilliwack is committed to one of the top NCAA Div 1 women’s programs in the United States.

“There are two girls from B.C. (defenceman Danika Pasqua and forward Camryn Wong) who committed to UConn who I’ve gotten to play with and train with in the past,” Klassen said. “They’re two years older than me and they were freshmen this last season.

“When I talked to them they told me that the program is super great and they love everything about the school.”

When people think UConn, they think women’s basketball and a Huskies team that has won 11 Div 1 championships and once won 111 straight games.

Part of the allure for Klassen was going to a school that prioritizes women’s sports.

“I toured some schools and the girls dressing rooms aren’t nearly as nice as the men’s facilities and it’s very one-sided,” Klassen concurred. “At UConn, there’s just as much money going into the women’s sports as the men’s sports.

“They put so much effort into all of their programs, and the coaches aren’t just there to coach. They’re there to make you a better person. Their number one goal isn’t just to win. It’s to create a good family and good team by recruiting good people.”

A 2002-born forward, Klassen spent last season playing for the Pacific Steelers (Richmond) in the Junior Women’s Hockey League.

It’s a 14 team circuit with most of the teams on the east coast of Canada and the United States.

With Klassen leading the way, the Steelers posted the third best regular season record in the league (13-6-2).

They lost in a semi-final to Winnipeg’s Balmoral Hall Blazers, but in 23 combined regular season and playoff games, Klassen led her team in goals by far, sniping 15 while the next best player (Allison Reeb) had nine.

Only three players in the entire league lit the lamp more than Klassen and all three are one year older than she.

“Last season was really good,” she said. “I started off a little slow, but I definitely got way better as it went on and I went to the JWHL all-star game as well.”

“If someone watches me play, they’d see someone who plays with a lot of speed and I have really good vision to see plays developing.”

The highlight of her season was scoring the game winner in a 1-0 win over the North American Hockey Academy, the top team in the JWHL.

“We were tied with about three minutes left in the game,” she recalled. “The puck squirted out of our defensive zone and I skated from our goalline all the way into their zone, cut across the ice and shot it low short side.

“I was super excited because we thought we were going to lose by a lot and we ended up winning.”

Klassen is blazing a path for the next generation of Chilliwack female hockey players to follow.

Few locals have gone on to play at a higher level after midget. Michaela Read is doing very well with the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Div 1 Lyndenwood Lynx.

Now, Klassen is providing more proof that a Chilliwackian can dream big.

“Women’s hockey has changed so much the last few years and it’s just getting started,” Klassen said. “It’s a real cool opportunity that I get to do this. I think sometimes I take it for granted, but it is very rare and special.”

UConn plays in the Hockey East conference, a 10 team circuit that includes Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, Providence, Merrimack, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Holy Cross.

UConn finished seventh last season with an overall record of 14-18-4.

Klassen is currently 10 games into her final season with the Steelers, getting ready for the on-ice jump and trying to wrap her head around moving from the west coast of Canada to the east coast of the United States.

“I’m never been much of a home-body, and I’ve never been a person who got nervous about anything,” she said. “It’s most excitement for a fresh start and a new place to be.”

– Klassen’s year got even better in September when she was selected to represent B.C. at the Canadian U-18 Hockey Championships. Klassen’s crew ended up finishing fifth in the tournament, which was held in Winkler, Manitoba.

In JWHL league play with the Steelers, Klassen has collected three goals and six points in 10 games so far this season.

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