Finding Her Stride

Minnesota Whitecaps Forward Allie Thunstrom’s Need For Speed Helped Recapture Her Love Of The Game
Jessi Pierce

It wasn't an Olympic hockey dream that inspired Allie Thunstrom. Or a future Isobel Cup-something she would eventually help the Minnesota Whitecaps capture as champions of the National Women's Hockey League.

No, the goal she set for herself as a 6-year-old Minnesotan would propel her on the ice and through her life for years to come: "I want to be the best at whatever I do." 

Thunstrom, now 33, has certainly made her younger self proud. Not only has she morphed into one of the best professional women's hockey players around, she also achieved success on a different set of blades: speedskating. 

Keeping Up 

Big brothers Justin and Pat Thunstrom would leave their St. Paul, Minn., home and head to the rink with Allie lagging not far behind. Despite their best efforts to shake their younger sibling, she was always right there lacing up her skates next to them.

When they hit the ice, they again tried to leave her in their wake. 

"They didn't want their little sister playing with them at all," Thunstrom recalls with a laugh. "So they said, 'if you're going to play with us, you better keep up.'"

"So, I did." 

With few girls' teams in the area, she grew up as the lone female on all-boys' teams. Again, she was forced to keep up. 

"I always appreciated when I would get off the ice and the parents would say something like, 'wow, you really belong out there' or, 'wow, you're quick,'" said Thunstrom, who eventually found herself on the North St. Paul girls' varsity team as a seventh grader. 

"As backhanded as it was, I really did want to make a difference and be of value for my team. It was nice and rewarding for people to recognize my skill." 

As she rose up the ranks, those skills became more noticeable.

Thunstrom racked up 228 goals and 350 points in her high school playing career, setting all-time school records in goals and assists (122).  She was named the Minnesota State High School Hockey League's Ms. Hockey in 2006 as the state's top female high school senior. 

It didn't take long for her to garner attention from Team USA and earn a spot on the 2007 U.S. Women's Under-22 Select Team. Her success further propelled her to Boston College, where she led all of Hockey East in scoring her senior year. 

But upon graduation in 2010, with no professional women's hockey outlet in sight, Thunstrom had to aim her ambitions in a different direction. 

"I played hockey my entire life, so I really didn't know what to do," she admits. "I was like, 'well, now what?'"

Speedskating Success 

Following the suggestion of a friend, she decided to give speedskating a try. Like so many from the State of Hockey, Thunstrom was basically born to skate. So how hard could it be to make the shift from the rink to the oval? 

She remembers hearing a 7-year-old comment as the then-24-year-old face-planted in the middle of the straightaway. It turned out that the sport was harder than it looked. For starters, the blades on a speedskate span nearly five inches from toe of the boot to the tip of the blade. 

"It was embarrassing. I just couldn't figure that out," she recalls. 

"Truthfully, I don't know why I even stuck with it. I was awful. And at first I was like, who wants to skate around in circles without a puck anyway."

But, true to form, Thunstrom stuck with it, aiming to be the best she could be. In 2012, she attended a speedskating camp in Green Bay, Wis., where coaches began to see potential. Before long she was ranked among the Top 10 speedskaters in the area. 

After barely missing the cut at the 2014 Olympic trials, Thunstrom was faced with a difficult decision. If she was going to have any hope of taking the next step in her new sport, she would have to abandon her regular pickup hockey games and devote herself full time to training.

"I started to realize that when I was going from speedskating to hockey and then trying to come back, it took me an entire practice to get my technique back for speedskating," she says.

"If I really wanted to give myself the chance to make the [U.S. Olympic] team, or even the World Cup team for speedskating, I needed to take a step back from hockey and just focus on speedskating. That was difficult for sure."

Back To Hockey Blades 

Despite devoting herself to her new goal, Thunstrom missed the cut to make the U.S. Speed Skating Team that competed in PyeongChang, South Korea. Lucky for her, professional hockey became a brighter option. 

Months later she signed a contract with her hometown Whitecaps and would go on to set the NWHL record for goals (24) in a season and was named the league's co-MVP.

A return to hockey also meant a return to team sports, something Thunstrom never realized she cherished until she found herself competing alone on the ice.

"I always find those [accolades and awards] to be special because they represent a team success," says Thunstrom, who used her speedskating prowess to capture the fastest skater event at the 2020 NWHL All-Star Weekend.

"Players, even if they have really good stats, aren't going to be recognized without a really good team behind them. You aren't going to see the MVP of the NHL coming from the last place team.

"I'll always be the best I can be. I just prefer to do that to help my team be its best, too." 



Jessi Pierce is a freelance writer in St. Paul, Minn.



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