There are lots of ways to describe Halli Krzyzaniak.
Two-time Under-18 World Champion. Best Defenseman at the 2013 IIHF Under-18 World Championships. Neepawa, Manitoba, native, University of North Dakota sophomore, National Women’s Development Team alternate captain. Any of the above would work. If she had to describe herself, she’d say “hard-working, energetic, and confident.”
North Dakota associate head coach Peter Elander would go with something else.
“She is trustworthy,” he said. “She is trustworthy on and off the ice.”
When the puck drops on Canada’s game against Sweden tonight at the 4 Nations Cup, Krzyzaniak will become the second-youngest defenseman to play for the Canadian National Women’s Team in at least eight years. That trustworthiness is perhaps the biggest reason why.
Krzyzaniak is no stranger to wearing a Team Canada jersey. She’s suited up for the Canadians at the Under-18 and Under-22 levels, but at just 19 years old, this is the first time she’ll represent Canada at the senior level.
“From a very young age I’m pretty sure it’s every little girl’s dream to represent her country at a national level and to be able to do that is really something special,” she said. “I’m very fortunate.”
Nine of Krzyzaniak’s teammates will also be making their senior team debuts, so she’s far from the team’s only rookie. She’s expecting them to use that as an advantage, however.
“I think all of us rookies bring a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy,” she said. “It’s our first crack at it so I think we’re really going to be ready to go. We’re a little bit nervous and a little bit excited. I think we’ll bring a lot of that energy and compete level.”
Krzyzaniak has accelerated quickly through the ranks, not only with Hockey Canada but with UND as a well. As a freshman last season, she came to North Dakota already capable of being a standout performer.
“She came into the university level on a high level already,” Elander said. “Halli was used to practicing really professionally before she came into college. So I think the transition for her was a little smoother.”
Last season, Krzyzaniak posted two goals and 10 points from the blue line while logging big minutes and impressive performances on the defensive end every night. In just over one year with UND, Elander has already seen her take some huge strides.
“I think she’s developed to be a world-class defensive senior player already,” he said. “I think she can still improve a little of her offensive play but she has shown glimpses of being really, really good there, too.”
Her time at North Dakota has also helped to prepare her for this first opportunity with the senior national team.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play with a lot of different girls that are on their own national teams,” Krzyzaniak said, mentioning UND teammates and Olympians Tanja Eisenschmid and Michelle Karvinen. “You kind of look up to them and see what you really need to do to be at that level and the kind of intensity that you have to bring day in and day out. And the coaches have been really great at communicating with Hockey Canada, talking to them about what I need to work on to get myself to the next level.”
So what is it that separates her from the crowd at such a young age?
“Her work ethic,” Elander said. “I think that Halli gets a task, and she is really focus-oriented on doing it.”
Focus-oriented is one way to put it. When asked what her ultimate goal is, she doesn’t miss a beat.
“To represent Canada at the Olympics,” Krzyzaniak said.
For right now, she’s hoping to make a positive impression with the national team.
“My mentality going in is to prove that I can play at that level and to show that I deserve the spot at the senior level,” Krzyzaniak said. “I hope to bring an element of really strong defense, make smart plays, and just be reliable on the back-end.”
She brings several notable assets to the table that will help her do just that.
“On the ice, I think that it’s her way of reading the plays defensively, and reading what to do; she plays with confidence,” Elander said. “Off the ice, it’s her work ethic that is second to none. And I have coached the Lamoureux twins, and players who have outstanding work ethic, and Halli is up in that blue-chip, Nobel Prize group. She is up at the top.”
Krzyzaniak’s ability to make the right play on the ice coupled with her discipline off of it is what makes her so trustworthy, as Elander lauded. And it is this distinct quality that sets her apart.
Her past experience with the U18 and U22 teams should also come in handy at this week’s 4 Nations Cup.
“Being a part of the program, they really help work you up in the system and give you all of the experience you need to help you succeed at the next level,” she said. “The few experiences I’ve had at the senior level this last year in the summer really helped prepare me for what kind of tempo and speed they’re going to play at and how strong they are. And the older girls have been really welcoming.”
She’s also been able to take a lot away from her time with Hockey Canada that has benefitted her at North Dakota.
“I think any time that you’re around a large group of players at that caliber, it really elevates your game,” Krzyzaniak said. “You’re surrounded by the best staff in the country, the best massage therapist, the best trainers and whatnot. They really give you all of the tools so that when you leave, you’re ready to take that back to your club team and be leaders there and hopefully elevate their games as well.”
Elander, who coached Sweden to a silver medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics, sees her hard work and discipline both on and off the ice leading to the pinnacle of success for her down the road.
“I think her potential is that she can play in the Olympic Games,” he said. “She can be a leader for a gold medal Olympic team. My own Olympic experience tells me that she can be.”
There are lots of ways to describe Halli Krzyzaniak, and future Olympian is almost certainly one of them. Just trust her on it.