Jinelle Zaugg-Siergiej was not only one of the greatest players in the history of the Wisconsin Badgers women’s ice hockey program, she was undoubtedly one of the finest in the history of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) conference. Raised in Eagle River, Wisconsin, the newest chapter of her hockey odyssey features a solid coaching career, which currently includes a spot on Eric Rud’s staff with the St. Cloud State Huskies.
Joining the St. Cloud State Huskies in the autumn of 2014, it brought Siergiej’s career full circle, as she returned to her WCHA hockey roots. Since joining the Huskies, Siergiej has seen significant improvement. From an 8-win campaign in 2014-15, the program would post five more wins, their highest win total since the 2009-10 campaign. Along with players such as Molly Illikainen and Julia Tylke earning spots on the All-WCHA team, the program is defined by optimism.
As the Huskies look to become part of the WCHA’s elite programs, Siergiej’s experience and acumen shall certainly benefit a strong freshman class that includes the likes of goaltender Janine Alder (who captured a bronze medal with Switzerland at the 2014 Winter Games) and Janna Haeg, who played for Natalie Darwitz, a teammate of Siergiej on Team USA.
Other members of the freshman class include Brooke Kudirka, the first girl from Nebraska to play NCAA Division I hockey, multiple Minnesota State High School champion Rachel Herzog, Wisconsin’s Katie Detert, and Winnipeg’s Kayla Friesen, who captured a silver medal for Canada at the 2016 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds.
“Coaching here at SCSU has been an amazing experience not only for the wonderful location to family and in the heart of hockey country, but because of the people I work with every day. The girls are extraordinary and it is so fun watching them develop into great hockey players, but it is also an amazing opportunity to learn from Coach Rud and Coach Macdonald every day. They both have great experience and bring such a different perspective to the game.”
Graduating from the Badgers in 2008 with an astounding 156 points (highlighted by a 50-point season in 2006-07), Siergiej was part of a magical time for the program, transforming it into a dynasty. Winning back-to-back NCAA Frozen Four championships, including the first in program history, Siergiej’s sensational run with the Badgers would reach its pinnacle at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, as one of seven Badgers to proudly don the Team USA jersey.
Although the highly-talented Siergiej looks like she can still provide exceptional play on the ice, she has made the transition from player to coach, while also happily taking on the role of proud mom to a young son named Colden. Also displaying an entrepreneurial flair as the owner of the Crazy Eights Hockey Camp, she has helped develop 10 players for NCAA hockey.
Prior to her arrival with the St. Cloud State Huskies, Siergiej held coaching positions at two different levels. Beginning with a role as head coach with Arrowhead Union High School’s girls varsity team (roughly 25 miles west of Milwaukee), capturing a conference crown in 2011, she would also gain experience at the NCAA level, working on the coaching staff of the Robert Morris Colonials, based out of the College Hockey America (CHA) conference.
“The biggest adjustment into the coaching world is being able to face the reality that I am not able to play. Although I would like to, I cannot jump on the ice and change the outcome of the game.”
During Siergiej’s first season (2013-14) as a coach with the Robert Morris Colonials, the program attained a record 24 wins along with a spot in the national ranking, while goaltender Jessica Dodds was recognized as the CHA Rookie of the Year. Among the players she had the opportunity to coach included the likes of Rebecca Vint, who would reach the career mark of 100 points during the 2013-14 season (she would graduate as the program’s all-time leading scorer), Kristen Stewart, who would win a CBHA national title in 2015 with the Toronto Shamrocks, and second-generation player Katie Fergus, whose father, Tom, was an alternate captain with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs in the late 1980’s.
During the first season with the Huskies coaching staff, Siergiej would have to wait until the last series of the season to make her return to Madison’s Labahn Arena, the site of so many glories as a member of the Badgers. An emotional return to Madison was highlighted by a 2-1 victory on February 20, 2015.
Alyssa Erickson would score in the first for the visiting Huskies, ending the game with 12 face off wins, while a scoreless second period resulted in the Badgers peppering goaltender Julie Friend with an astounding 22 shots. Payge Pena would score on Ann-Renee Desbiens for what proved to be the game-winning tally, while Annie Pankowski (also a member of the US national team) would log the lone Badgers goal. Friend would go on to record 52 saves in the 2-1 final.
“The first time going back to Madison as a coach for an opposing team was a bit surreal. When I would hear the Wisconsin fight song or see the Wisconsin colors my memory brought me right back to my playing days. I was welcomes with open arms and felt right at home. I was fortunate that my players felt my same energy and excitement as we went on to defeat Wisconsin in that game in Badger land.”
Another aspect that involved the series in Wisconsin was the chance to reunite with a significant mentor in her career. Having served as Siergiej’s head coach at the Badgers, along with Team USA during the 2009-10 season, Mark Johnson is one of Wisconsin’s most treasured hockey icons. Still evident behind the Badgers bench after so many glorious seasons, Siergiej acknowledges that conversations between them also extend beyond hockey,
“Whenever I see Mark the conversation is very much the same. It has nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with my family. Most recently the conversation is about my son Colden and his grandkids. I greatly respect him and am thankful for the role he played in my playing career.”
Among the exceptional milestones in Siergiej’s world-class hockey career, perhaps there is one that deserves consideration as the most treasured. In the aftermath of competing at the Winter Games, Wisconsin Prep Hockey introduced the Jinelle Siergiej Award in 2011, recognizing the finest offensive player in the state.
As a side note, fellow Badgers alums Molly Engstrom and Jessie Vetter also have similar awards named in their honor, as the Engstrom Award recognizes the Best Defensive Player and the Vetter Award is bestowed upon the Best Goaltender.
While Siergiej is truly one of the greatest women’s ice hockey players to emerge from Wisconsin, it is her continued devotion to the game and positive attitude that makes her such an integral part of its future as well. To be recognized with an award is a remarkable recognition of the legacy that has been carved, and the continued efforts towards an even brighter future.
“The state of Wisconsin has been so special to me and I am very proud to have grown up there and played for the University. One of my goals has always been to represent Wisconsin well and help grow the game in whatever ways possible. It is an honor to have Wisconsin name an award after me, and I hope that the players that receive it understand the sacrifices that it takes to get to the next level.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Bruce Bennett