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Gillette hockey player makes it to Division I

Alexis "Poppy" Poppleton of GIllette will play NCAA Division I for St. Anselm College.

Alexis Poppleton signs with St. Anselm College. (Tammi Poppleton)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — A Gillette woman who showed how tough she is on and off the ice has signed with a Division I hockey team.

After playing for Campbell County’s Blades & Avalanche program, Gillette Wild (which is now the Gillette Grizzlies), Thunder Basin High School and AAA, Alexis Poppleton will play for St. Anselm College in New Hampshire. Past coaches said that St. Anselm’s team has gained an incredible athlete whom they’re excited to see succeed at this upcoming stage.

Poppleton said she’s excited to be able to live out one of her dreams.

Tammi, Alexis’s mom, said that to her knowledge, her daughter is one of the first few girls from Gillette to play NCAA Division 1 or play in another state. The family had to figure out as they went along, with some help, how to pursue Alexis’s dream.

While Wyoming has a smaller hockey market, it’s still possible for the state’s youth athletes to go on to play on college hockey teams, Tammi said. It just takes more work.

“Don’t feel like just because you live in Gillette, Wyoming, that you can’t make this happen,” she said.

Alexis — or “Poppy,” as her Dallas Stars Elite team called her — fit in on Day 1, according to Collin Hesse, who coached her while she was on the Dallas Stars Elite 19u AAA team. They felt lucky to have her, as it’s uncommon for a Wyoming athlete to play for them.

Alexis “Poppy” Poppleton, playing for Dallas Stars Elite. (Tammi Poppleton)

Alexis said that when she played in Dallas, she was essentially a tournament player. She would go there a few weekends a month for practices and play games at the team’s tournaments.

“When she came to tryouts, our top priority was to ensure she was on our team before she went back home,” he said. “In our world, players that are not around the team 100% of the time are often not on the same page as the entire team. That was not the case with Poppy.”

Alexis is an elite athlete and hockey player whose skill and work ethic inspire other athletes, Hesse said.

“She plays fast, she plays aggressive, and she is fearless. When you have that, plus you have the creative ability to make plays with the puck, AND you have a great attitude and are a great teammate, then you have not only a great hockey player but a great person as well,” he said. “We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to have coached Poppy and are so beyond happy for her accomplishing her goal of committing to play NCAA D1 hockey.”

Alexis “Poppy” Poppleton, playing for Dallas Stars Elite. (Tammi Poppleton)

Team Colorado coach Karen Rickard said Alexis was one of her favorite kids on the 16AAA team. Their paths crossed after Alexis’s recreation team played in a tournament in Vail, since some of the coaches Rickard knew urged her to contact her. They said Alexis was easily the best player in the tournament, and that she should play AAA.

“She fit right in and came to tryouts for next year’s team and the rest is sort of history,” Rickard said. “You notice her speed and quickness right away, but she has great hands, and makes good decisions on both the offensive and defensive sides of the puck. She’s by far one of the most consistent players I’ve ever coached and is a locker room favorite who is loved by all. She’s a kid who needed someone to take a chance on her and I’m so glad we did. It’s amazing to see the opportunity she’s earned herself.”

For her junior year and a part of her senior year, Alexis lived in Colorado with a host family so she could play AAA. Alexis graduated from Thunder Basin in 2022 and took a gap year to focus on hockey.

Alexis, who plays forward or center, said she loves how competitive the sport is and how much skill it requires. At the same time, anyone who has the skills can play and have fun.

“It’s truly for everyone,” she said.

She has also enjoyed growing relationships over the years.

Alexis has mostly played with the boys as she was growing up and always enjoyed the physical contact part of the sport, Tammi said.

At St. Anselm, Alexis plans to major in health sciences and prepare to receive a doctoral degree in physical therapy, inspired by her experience with Christian Galindo of Gillette Physical Therapy following the two concussions she has sustained while playing hockey.

“I always wanted to be some type of a doctor and after seeing what he did and the rest of the physical therapists were doing there, I really enjoyed it,” Alexis said.

Alexis had a concussion while playing in Detroit for Team Colorado in her first year being away from home, Tammi said. Tammi and her husband weren’t at that tournament, and they saw the incident via streaming coverage. They saw her “kind of black out,” and they couldn’t get a hold of anyone until after the game ended.

Alexis ended up being out for about a month, but the physical therapists were great and got her back to playing stronger than ever, Tammi said.

“Makes you hold your breath a little, though,” the athlete’s mom said.

About a year later, Alexis, still playing for Team Colorado, had a collision while playing at a tournament in Dallas. Her parents were able to be there for that game and they brought her back to Gillette for another month. Gillette Physical Therapy helped Alexis get back to the sport, again.

“Knock on wood, she’s been good ever since,” Tammi said.