Senior Spring: Karlee Odland ’15 from Vauxhall to Hanover
Women’s hockey captain Karlee Odland ’15 had a unique childhood. She was born and raised on a farm in southern Alberta, Canada, where she said there is a strong agricultural community of around 7,000 people in the region. In the 2011 census, her hometown, Vauxhall, had a population of 1,288. Growing up, Karlee and her brothers had chores just like anyone else, although they were not the usual folding of laundry or taking out the trash.
“My job as a kid was to go check cattle,” Odland said. “It was just a lot different than normal kids, especially at Dartmouth. I don’t think I’ve really met a lot of people that have grown up on a farm [here], so when I tell my stories of when I was a kid, they’re so intrigued.”
Farming was not the only thing to do in Vauxhall, though, and Odland said she comes from a very athletic household. Her father competed in baseball and hockey, while her mother played basketball and volleyball in high school and was named female athlete of the year during her playing career. Odland said that while her parents did not push her to play sports, they definitely fostered an active household. Her first activity, however, was not hockey.
“My mom and dad, they started me in dance,” Odland said. “And they realized I wasn’t as graceful [enough] to be there.”
Instead of pursuing her short-lived dance career, Odland followed in the footsteps of her two older brothers and started playing hockey at age five.
“My mom said the moment I stepped on the ice, she knew that I would was going to pursue it for a long time,” Odland said.
In high school, Odland began to attract attention for her abilities on the ice. She competed for the Medicine Hat Hounds of the Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League and was the team’s leading scorer and most valuable player in 2010. Serving as an alternate team captain, she also won a gold medal with Team Alberta U-18 Female in the 2011 Canadian Winter Games.
Her connection to Dartmouth came through former Big Green women’s hockey associate head coach Rob Morgan. Odland first met Morgan, who used to coach the Medicine Hat Hounds, in ninth grade at a summer camp for up-and-coming female hockey players.
Morgan left Dartmouth to become the inaugural head coach for St. Norbert College’s women’s hockey team before Odland got to campus. At that point, however, she was already well acquainted with the school, taking an unofficial visit in 11th grade and an official visit a year later.
“It was kind of nice, because I came from a small community and that’s what I was looking for,” Odland said. “I just felt like Dartmouth — it doesn’t exactly resemble my community, but it’s very small in the sense that [everyone] knows each other. That’s just really what I was looking for, and it just clicked right away.”
While a weekend trip to Montreal is just a three-hour drive from New Hampshire, Vauxhall is about 38 hours from campus. Despite the distance, her biggest adjustment to Hanover was more about environment than culture.
“That’s the biggest thing — not being on the farm anymore, being in a town and living in dorms,” she said.
Odland had an incredibly successful rookie season and won the team’s Rookie of the Year award, which was all the more impressive considering she missed the first 12 games of the season for recovery from a meniscus tear that she suffered the year before. That injury happened in January after the knee was already surgically repaired once, and Odland had the meniscus removed the following summer.
“It was kind of hard getting back. As a freshman coming in, I was already behind six months, and I just went [to] video every week with my coaches to try and catch up,” Odland said. “[I] did everything to try and catch up. I ended up actually getting a decent amount of time as a freshman, and so I was pretty happy. Just got to put the work in.”
Over the next few years, Odland developed into one of the team’s leaders. After leading all first-years in points her freshman year, she tallied 13 points on five goals and eight assists the next season, good for seventh on the team in scoring. She matched that point total her junior year season as well, despite playing in seven fewer games.
Odland attributed a lot of her growth to picking up the team system. She said that once she felt comfortable in the system that Dartmouth had, she was able to be more creative with her style of play. Her improvement earned her team captain honors this past season. While she said being a leader was overwhelming at times, Odland realized that as long as she led by example and worked with the coaches, everything else would follow.
“My team made it pretty easy for me, not going to lie. Didn’t really have any challenges all year,” Odland said. “Everyone [was] on the same page, so I was pretty happy with our team.”
Reflecting on her first-year experiences, Odland took special care as a captain to make sure that the underclassmen felt welcome.
“I remember when I was a freshman, I was terrified of our seniors. Everything about them was terrifying, so as a senior this year I tried to be less intimidating, if that was possible,” Odland said. “Make a fun environment so the freshmen come in a little bit more comfortable.”
Odland remembers playing sharing the ice her first year with then-captain Reagan Fischer ’12, who grew up in Irma, Alberta, about four hours north of Vauxhall.
“She was the kind of player I wanted to be, so I just remember watching everything that she did, hoping that one day I could become the player she did,” Odland said. “I don’t know if I did, but I definitely learned a lot from her.”
Odland’s most unforgettable moment of her playing career also happened during her freshman season.
“[Frozen Fenway 2012 is] probably my most memorable moment because my brothers flew in to surprise me, so they ended up seeing my first goal,” Odland said. “I think that’s definitely my highlight of my Dartmouth career.”
Frozen Fenway is a joint effort by the Boston Red Sox, the City of Boston and Fenway Sports Management to open up the baseball park for skating events during the winter. In 2012, the Big Green defeated Providence College in a 3-2 contest in which Odland scored the team’s second goal of the game and notched the first point and goal of her career.
Odland finished her career this past season with 99 games played and 54 total points.
“It has been, obviously, a huge part of my life, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” Odland said. “Coming to Dartmouth, I don’t know, it was a dream.”
Off the ice, Odland is pursuing a psychology major. After graduation, she plans to take a gap year and study for the LSAT, with plans to go to law school in the near future. Odland will take the skills she has developed as a student-athlete and bring them into her career path.
“I think that the biggest thing I’ve gotten out of being a student-athlete here is time management,” Odland said. “I’ve actually found that in my offseason, I’m actually a little worse as a student, which doesn’t make sense but in season you can’t procrastinate. When you have a 30-minute time slot, you do homework. But when you’re out of season, you have a little bit more time and you push things a little bit more.”
In terms of hockey, Odland plans to take a step back.
“I’m just going to play hockey for fun, enjoy it, play with my friends back home, but definitely move on to the next chapter of my life,” Odland said.
Her life goals are simple: a successful career, a happy family and great friendships. She will apply the lessons she learned from being a student-athlete to her everyday life.
“It’s kind of funny, but there’s this saying that my coach always said...‘Every day is a holiday, every meal is a feast,’ and he always said that when we were in the mid-season, in a little bit of a dreg, [and] getting killed by midterms,” Odland said. “He’s just like, ‘Just enjoy the day.’ I think that’s just going to stick with me for the rest of my life, when I’m feeling down or feeling a little sore for myself, and I’ll just realize that every day is a blessing.”