The University of Maine’s women’s hockey team had already played 15 games before freshman left winger Darcia Leimgruber from Basel, Switzerland, made her debut.
There had been some eligibility issues stemming from the fact some of the players in her Swiss league were getting paid although she wasn’t.
But practices still proved to be valuable in her development and she wound up playing in six games for the Black Bears, notching a goal and an assist, before joining her Swiss national team for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“I learned so much. I had to adjust to a lot of things and I’m so grateful to my teammates for helping me out,” said Leimgruber. “And the coaches gave me tips. I still do some of the drills they taught me at Maine. Going to the gym to work out with the team also helped a lot. I’m a lot stronger.”
Leimgruber said the hockey is North America is “very different. It’s a lot more physical.”
Maine coach Dan Lichterman said there is much more structure, intensity and off-ice training in college hockey as well as more of an emphasis on two-way play.
“Darcia is gifted offensively. The challenge for her and her team will be what can they bring to the table defensively,” said Lichterman.
“There’s no doubt that she improved while she was here,” said Maine captain Amy Stech.
Leimgruber began playing hockey when she was 4. Her father, Alain, played hockey and he is a referee as is her brother, Kiran.
She played on teams with boys until “I was 16 or 17” when she began also playing on all-girls teams. She attended summer hockey camps for potential national team members.
Former Maine assistant coach Sara Simard recruited her for the Black Bears.
“Playing on the Swiss national team in the Olympics was always a dream. We always used to watch the hockey games on TV,” said Leimgruber. “And now it’s coming true. It’s unbelievable.”
Her team will be a definite underdog but she said, “I think it’s great to be the underdog. You don’t have any pressure on you.
“Our team is pretty good. We could be a surprise team,” said the 20-year-old Leimgruber who will play right wing on a “good line.”
“They’ll be relying on her offensively,” said Lichterman. “Her best asset is her vision. She sees the ice well and has a good shot.”
The Swiss open against Sweden on Saturday, Feb. 13.