GRAND FORKS, N.D. - - When Melissa Jaques joined the Fighting Sioux hockey team for her freshman year (2005-2006), she wouldn't have believed you if you said she would be playing professional hockey in Russia after graduation.
Currently in her second season as a member of Tornado (Moscow Region) in the Championship of Russia League, Jaques helped her team win their league last season which will allow them to contend for the European Cup in 2011-12.
Jaques said that the hardest part about the transition to international play is the language barrier.
"The best part is having experience I got while playing at UND to allow me to continue playing hockey in Russia," Jaques said. "With that I'm able to make friends from all around the world, learn a new culture and try learning a new language firsthand."
"Right now I'm very happy with my decision to play hockey in Russia, and I hope to continue playing at this level for as long as I can and go wherever it takes me."
Jaques arrived at UND from Crooks Creek, Manitoba and graduated with a degree in Communication in 2010. While with the women's hockey program, associate head coach Peter Elander introduced her to the idea of playing halfway around the world.
The facilities at the Ralph Engelstad Arena and Grand Forks community drew Jaques to the University of North Dakota, but she misses the team atmosphere the most. "I really miss game days, and the rituals that came with it. It's a feeling that is really hard to describe. I also miss the family and closeness of the Grand Forks environment," she said.
During her time with the Fighting Sioux, Jaques was a part of a transition to success as well as breaking several individual school records. "When I started at UND we had such a long road ahead of us, and even though we never won a national championship it was a huge honor to have laid the foundation for future Fighting Sioux women's hockey players," she said.
In her final two seasons suiting up for the Sioux there were many firsts that the transitioning program went through. Jaques remembers shutting out the University of Minnesota Duluth (4-0) on their senior night and during her senior year the overtime game-winning goal against Bemidji State University that broke the overall points record. "That was a very special record to break, but one that wouldn't have been possible without my teammates," Jaques said.
Jaques says that being part of the Fighting Sioux hockey program helped her take the next step in her hockey career, "I've seen first hand what hard work and dedication lead to and that I will be able to put forth in any job that may come my way. Throughout my time at UND there was never an easy road. So with that I learned what it takes to be successful and how to handle certain situations. I was able to gain many valuable contacts as well, which led me to playing in Russia."
Jaques isn't able to watch most games because of the nine-hour time difference, but she still follows the program through Twitter and watching game highlights on FightingSioux.com. She remains bonded to the program that she and her teammates helped build into the program it is today.