For most of us, as college or university ended and the real world loomed, getting a job and jumping headfirst into the workforce was the most likely path forward.
For Red Deer’s Abby Thiessen, who just wrapped up her fourth and final season of NCAA Division I hockey, there’s a glimmer of hope she can put off the real world for a little while longer.
The blueliner, who played the past three seasons at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, is considering a pro hockey career overseas next year, whenever the hockey world gets back on its feet.
She’s got options in China, as well as Sweden and Germany, depending on how the chips fall.
“It’s sprung upon me, but the last couple years of my college career, I think I want to keep trying to do this as long as I can, especially after this year.
“I enjoyed it so much with the girls, but I don’t think I’m ready to call it a career after this season,” said Thiessen, who is finishing up her final two courses of her finance degree, while back home in Red Deer.
“It’s such a unique opportunity to keep playing for girls. Because I could only do it now, is kinda what I’m thinking. If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. I can get a job whenever.”
Some of it is also a desire to see the world and enjoy new experiences. On top of that, the way her season ended this year, with a team record of 6-25-4, wasn’t exactly how she wants her hockey career to end.
And the connections. Over the past few years, she’s had teammates from Germany, Sweden and Switzerland and they’ve all outlined the positives that come with playing pro in Europe.
“When I was going into college hockey, I never realized how many opportunities there were,” she said.
“Some of the girls I played with at St. Cloud, played in the Swedish professional league before coming to college. I didn’t really know much about it, but playing with all these girls from all over, gives you better information.
“I’ve talked to one of the German girls about what she experienced, and trying to get more information, because a lot of it is in a different language. So it’s nice to know those people, because they can be a good asset.”
Those connections, too, in a tough season at St. Cloud State, were the big reason the season wasn’t a total loss. They had a new coach this year and that meant a new voice on the blue line, which happened to be an Olympic medallist, Molly Engstrom.
That experience is another one Thiessen will carry for the rest of her life.
“Getting to learn from her and having her bring a fresh set of eyes, I think the whole D-core really took a step in the right direction with different things to look at,” Thiessen said.
“For me personally, she really helped me see different things that I could work on. And see how I could take the next step offensively, and some little tips on the power play too, that really helped. I was happy with how the season went personally.”
On the ice, she said there are so many memories that stand out that she’ll carry forever. Her first season was at the University of North Dakota, which turned out to be her only season there, after the program was abruptly cut that spring.
The three-year anniversary of the day she found out, just passed this week. She still stays in touch with old her teammates.
“My freshman year, that was something I was looking forward to for a couple years of when I was committed, and then finally getting to live out that dream of playing there, even though it was only for a year,” she said.
“Going through what we did, obviously that will be stuck in my mind for a while.”
Then there was last season, a career highlight, when as captain, she got to suit up for an outdoor game as part of Hockey Day in Minnesota, in front of a huge crowd. Another bucket list item was checked off.
“It was so cool. We hosted it in St. Cloud and we played in an outdoor game against (Minnesota) Duluth, so it was awesome getting to experience that, playing a college-level game on an outdoor rink,” she said.
In her final year, Thiessen was also an academic all-American, while posting her best statistical season with four goals and nine assists in 33 games.
Reflecting on it all, Thiessen said there were so many lessons and so many good times, she’s grateful just for the chance to have done it the way she did.
”I think the biggest thing I took away was all the different girls from around the world that I got to meet… it was really cool and that’s something I’ll take away.
“Just getting to meet all these girls that I never otherwise would have and coming together to play hockey, that was amazing,” she said.
“Any time you’re involved in a sports team, you take away so many things. As I look for a job or career, I have so much experience to take away from being a college athlete.”