THEY'RE the Ste. Anne Three, and they're all in the Frozen Four.
Senior defenceman and captain Melanie Gagnon of the No. 2 University of Minnesota Gophers, sophomore defenceman Jocelyne Larocque of the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs and freshman forward Bailey Bram of the Mercyhurst College Lakers all hail from Ste. Anne, population 1,500.
This weekend in Boston, they're all expected to play key roles with their respective teams and at least one of them will be in Sunday's final for the 2008-09 Women's Frozen Four, the NCAA Division 1 national championship.
"It's like the Sutter brothers all coming from one town (Viking, Alta.), except it's three different families," Bill Bram, Bailey's dad, said Wednesday as he and Andy Larocque, Jocelyn's dad, contemplated driving 30 hours to Boston.
"What are the odds? And what are the odds of them meeting in the Final Four?"
Bram, the College Hockey America rookie of the year with 15 goals and 34 points in 35 games for No. 3 Mercyhurst in Erie, Pa., will be going up against Gagnon and the Gophers in one of two Friday semifinals, while Larocque's Bulldogs will face the defending champion and No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers.
Bram and Gagnon grew up across the street from each other in Ste. Anne.
"It's crazy," said Bailey. "Mel was four or five years older. She always played with my brothers and I just looked up to her all the time. I always wanted to hang out with her, but I was probably the little girl she didn't want to hang out with much.
"I've never actually played against her. In summer we worked out together and then we'd go on the ice and play shinny together. We talked the other day on Facebook and she was saying 'Hey, it's going to be fun, keep your head up!' It was totally fun and a good conversation, for sure. But we all get along."
Larocque, just this week named to Canada's national team that will centralize in Calgary in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, joked about the trio of friends and the Ste. Anne connection. There's about two years of age between each of them and Gagnon, the oldest at 22, is her second cousin.
"It must be something in the water," she said with a chuckle from Duluth, Minn., where her four goals and 37 points in 36 games leads all female NCAA defencemen. She said the Ste.
Anne secret -- or one of them -- is that all three played on boys teams in an accepting environment.
"I've heard stories about other girls playing on boys teams and they just have a lot of negative feedback from the parents. We're very lucky that Ste. Anne was very supportive of girls playing. I think we do have to thank Ste. Anne because they helped us to develop when we were young."
Gagnon couldn't be reached for comment and was believed to be en route to Boston. She has 29 points in 39 games played and is the leader of the Gophers. She's been the trailblazer for all three, all of whom have played for Canada's Under-22 team.
It's not out of the question that at some future Olympics or world championship, all three could be wearing Team Canada sweaters and going for gold on an international stage far bigger than the NCAA Frozen Four.
"It's probably unheard of and it's just very exciting," said Larocque.
"Bailey and Melanie, they're both very good players and they're key players on their teams at a college level. It's just very good representation from a small town."
The Ste. Anne Three
Melanie Gagnon, D, Minnesota Gophers
5-foot-5 senior, team captain 4 goals, 25 assists, 29 points in 39 GP
Jocelyne Larocque, D, UMD Bulldogs
5-foot-6 sophomore 4-33-37 in 36 GP (leads NCAA defencemen) Named this week to Canada's national team
Bailey Bram, F, Mercyhurst College Lakers
5-foot-7, freshman 15-19-34 in 35 GP (four game-winning goals) Named CHA rookie of the year
Other Manitobans in Frozen Four:
Meghan Corbett, F, Winnipeg (Mercyhurst) Laura Fridfinnson, F, Arborg (UM Duluth) Lana Steck, G, Winnipeg (UM Duluth) Friday's semifinals (winners to Sunday's final) Wisconsin (32-2-5) vs. Minnesota Duluth (26-8-4) Minnesota (32-4-3) vs. Mercyhurst (30-5-0)