After beginning her college hockey career with a knee injury, redshirt junior Brianne Kilgour now finds herself in a lead role on a young University of Maine team still finding its legs in the season’s early stages.
Kilgour has been relied on as a role player and penalty killer in years past, but this season has brought new expectations from the coaching staff. The Black Bears have nine new faces on the roster this season, putting more pressure on veterans like Kilgour to step into leadership roles to help the freshmen become acclimated to UMaine’s system.
“We all kind of had to realize the role we had to step into after losing so many [seniors] last year,” she said. “This year I think Coach expects more of an offensive threat out of me and being able to produce points, whereas I was kind of a grinder last year, a line not to get scored on.”
Head coach Maria Lewis weighed in on Kilgour’s progression to this point.
“In the second half [of last year] she was one of our best killers and someone we relied upon to kill [penalties],” Lewis said. “She started to transfer that to her five on five play, and now she’s stepping in as a leader.”
Before moving on to play for UMaine in 2009, Kilgour was a member of the Hamilton Jr. Hawks — a Canadian Women’s Hockey League team — in her hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. In 52 games for the Hawks, she tallied 18 goals and 37 assists and captained the squad during the 2008-09 campaign.
Kilgour was also a successful triathlete in Canada before deciding to play collegiate hockey. In 2005, she was ranked No. 2 and No. 3 among triathletes in Ontario and Canada, respectively.
“I actually came to the point where I had to pick between hockey and triathlon,” she said when asked about her time competing in the sport. “I just kind of said ‘No, I have more fun playing hockey, it’s a team sport.’”
Despite being injured very early on in her freshman season with the Black Bears, Kilgour’s transition off the ice has gone smoothly.
“I came to UMaine because I love the New England states,” she said. “From where I’m from back home, I live in a small community, so I really like how small and enclosed the campus is. I just love the campus and the team itself as a whole, the girls were so welcoming on my visit.”
Kilgour tore her anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament only four games into the 2009-10 season. The injury sidelined her for the rest of the year, something she said definitely affected her transition into Division I hockey.
“[Division I hockey] is a lot faster paced,” she said. “Me personally, I didn’t get the chance to feel it. I played four games my freshman year and then hurt my knee. So I think that it was a lot tougher coming off that knee injury to move forward [from Hamilton].”
Kilgour scored in her first two games as a Black Bear before her knee forced her to sit out the rest of her freshman year.
When asked why she chose UMaine over her other options, the former Bauer Hockey East Rookie of the Week referenced the similarities in playing for the Hawks and Black Bears.
“There’s a lot of teams in the CWHL from where I am, and Hamilton wasn’t one of the top teams. We were kind of in the middle of the pack, we weren’t really respected as a program,” she said. “Coming here, Maine [women’s hockey] is not a respected program, so it’s nice to be able to continue to gain respect.”
The Ontario native, who cites her brother, step-father, Sydney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky as her hockey idols, was able to return as a redshirt freshman at the start of the 2010-11 season. Kilgour described the difficulty of the recovery process and having to sit out her first season in Orono.
“I fully tore my MCL, so I was on crutches for quite a while,” she said. “I waited a whole year. That summer I got on the ice a little bit, but it was my first time. I was scared, and I was kind of protecting myself.
“I’m more of a grindy player. I like getting in the corners, and I felt that wasn’t a part of my play anymore, so I really had to work on getting that back. It’s taken quite a bit to move forward from that.
“It was my first big injury,” she added. “It was really hard sitting in the stands. [I had to watch] every single practice, every game, I had to watch lifts. It was tough to feel like I was a part of the team, but I also feel that watching helped me a lot. It helped me get a different view of the game and become a smarter player.”
The junior forward — who describes herself as calm and patient — is majoring in kinesiology and physical education, but hasn’t quite shut the door yet on a hockey career after graduation.
“In Ontario, we have four or five CWHL teams. That’s the next step for women’s hockey,” she said. “That’s in the back of my mind, I haven’t really decided yet. I love hockey, and I never want to give up on it. It’s just a matter of if I want to go to the next level or if I want to just continue playing for fun.”
Despite the inexperience on this year’s team, Kilgour still retains high expectations for the squad moving forward.
“Our biggest sight in the future is winning Hockey East,” she said. “UConn was a big step for us. We did move forward coming off the Quinnipiac games, and it’s nice to see that we can bounce back after a loss and come out with a win.”
UMaine was unable to pick up a victory this past weekend in Boston as they fell to Boston University on Friday night and Northeastern on Saturday afternoon. Thus far into the season, Kilgour has scored two goals and has one assist and will try to improve as her teammates and she will be looking to pickup a couple of victories as they head home to play Providence College on Nov. 2 and 3.