O’Connor, Helget achieve college hockey dream together

File photo by Travis Rosenau Sleepy Eye St. Marys’ Julia Helget (5), playing for the Eagles, races for the puck during a 2021 home game with Marshall last season at the New Ulm Civic Center.

BLAINE — Playing the last game of the season and graduating high school can be tough in many different ways for a student-athlete.

Once that high school chapter is over, most coaches and teammates go their separate ways, carrying memories of the ups, downs and everything in between with them. But for 2022 graduates Maddi O’Connor and Julia Helget, their bond, friendship and teamwork will continue in college.

New Ulm High School’s O’Connor and Sleepy Eye St. Marys’ Helget both recently signed their Letters of Intent to continue their hockey careers at Bethel University with the Royals next season.

Bethel University is a private university in Arden Hills, Minnesota, that calls National Sports Center in Blaine its home for hockey.

Helget signed her Letter of Intent on May 4, while O’Connor signed hers on May 23.

File photo by Travis Rosenau New Ulm High School’s Maddi O’Connor (2) fires a shot during a 2021 home game with Marshall last season at the New Ulm Civic Center

Helget is coming off a standout senior season with the Eagles girls’ hockey team as one of the team’s top playmakers. She finished the season with 20 goals and 38 assists. O’Connor was also one of the Eagles’ biggest threats last season as she finished her senior season with 23 goals and 31 assists.

Both players also share strong career milestones, with Helget reaching 100 career points on Jan. 18 and O’Connor hitting the 100-point milestone on Jan. 20. They also both finished with 120 career points.

Helget said her decision to join Bethel University came down Royals head coach Brian Carlson’s interest and welcoming approach.

“I thought a little bit about playing hockey — it was kind of always in the back of my head — but I was looking at bigger schools,” Helget said. “I was looking at Iowa State or MSU, or a bigger school, but then the coach actually reached out to me and talked to me about playing there. He was really nice. [Coach Carlson] was so welcoming and the teammates have been really welcoming, it just felt like a really good community to be a part of. I knew right away when I left that place that that’s where I wanted to go.”

During their time playing together, Helget and O’Connor had discussions about going to college together and even playing hockey together if the opportunity was there.

“When I told [Maddi] about Bethel, she got so excited and was, like, ‘Oh, you’re going to play hockey?'” Helget said. “So I actually talked to the coach about maybe having Maddi go, because he was talking about needing some more players. And I was, like, ‘Oh, have you heard about Maddi O’Connor?’ And he said yeah and that he watched us play in the summer league one time, so he was familiar with Maddi before. It just kind of played out really nice. … He just wanted both of us and he said that we just worked together really well and he needed that for his team.”

With Helget’s “assist” and Carlson’s prior knowledge, Carlson turned his attention to O’Connor to see if she was interested in joining the program as well.

“Julia had looked at Bethel and the coach gave her a tour of the campus and she loved it,” O’Connor said. “Then she told me that I should go on a tour. I talked to the coach when I was there and I really liked the campus and loved the idea to get to play hockey with one of my high school teammates.”

There were talks of attending Iowa State together, but the duo ultimately landed with the Royals.

When all papers were signed, O’Connor couldn’t have been happier.

“I was very excited,” she said. “I was lucky to get to play with someone that I had that strong of a connection with in high school, so I knew we had to continue in college. We always used to talk about going to college somewhere together when we were younger, but we didn’t realize it could actually happen.”

Helget shared O’Connor’s excitement and said that she’s looking forward to making more memories with her friend and teammate.

“We’re so excited,” Helget said. “We’ve been talking this whole time through this whole journey and we’re so excited to go to college together. I don’t see Maddi as often as my other friends because she lives in New Ulm, I live in Sleepy Eye, so it’s not like we go to school together every day. But I would say that we’re best friends, and it’s just so reassuring to know that she’s going to be at the same college, we get to make more memories together through hockey, through school, maybe living together. I’m super excited and I know she is, too, it’s just going to be so fun.”

Kristin Faber, O’Connor and Helget’s head coach in high school, said that she was excited to hear the two would be continuing their playing careers in college together.

“Maddi and Julia have been linemates for a long time and for them to continue playing with each other is a great opportunity for both of them,” Faber said. “It is always fun to watch players move on to the next level and for the girls’ program to have younger players to look up to. New Ulm has been very fortunate to have a number of players move on and play at the next level, which has been fun to follow their collegiate careers.”

Faber also said that the duos overall work ethic in everything they do sets them apart from others.

On the ice, Faber said that Helget’s desire and success getting into corners and battling for pucks stood out to her most. As for O’Connor, her ability to see the ice and put herself into scoring areas for scoring opportunities was one of her biggest skills according to Faber.

This is the first time Faber has coached two players that went on to continue playing hockey together in college.

O’Connor and Helget both said they were excited to meet the team and create new connections in college.

Last season, the Royals were 8-11-2 and lost five games by one goal. With that in mind, coach Carlson will be looking to Helget and O’Connor to create more scoring opportunities.

“The coach was talking to me before that they had a lot of close games and they need more goals,” Helget said. “They’re doing everything right, they just need people to put the puck in the net. That’s really what I’m excited about — for me and Maddi to show up and put some goals in, show what we got from New Ulm and all this work that we’ve been putting in — just to show up and make New Ulm and Sleepy Eye proud.”

O’Connor plans to major in biokinetics while minoring in community health, while Helget will be studying speech communication sciences and disorders.


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