Mix of talented old and new faces raising barfor women’s hockey

Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Minnesota’s women’s hockey team, but things don’t always turn out as expected.

Despite losing nearly half their players from the year before, the Gophers finished atop the WCHA standings for the third straight season and reached their fourth NCAA Women’s Frozen Four in five years.

“We were really happy with our season,” head coach Laura Halldorson said at hockey media day Wednesday at Mariucci Arena. “We really overachieved.”

A strong talent core and a nationally renowned freshman class warrant high hopes for this year’s team as the Gophers try to regain the form of their 2000 national championship team.

The challenge now becomes finding a way to incorporate such a deep pool of talent into a group that prided themselves on team chemistry last season.

“I think so far we’re really meshing well,” senior captain Ronda Curtin said. “We understand that we all want to win, and we need the best players to do that.”

Minnesota will open its season with an exhibition game against the Beatrice Arrows, a 19-and-under junior team from Toronto, at Mariucci Arena on Friday at 7:00 p.m.

Minnesota is ranked second in the U.S. College Hockey Online preseason poll behind in-state rival and defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth.

The Gophers return 15 players from last year’s roster, including Curtin, the 2002 WCHA Player of the Year and 2000 Defensive Player of the Year Winny Brodt, who took a two-year hiatus to play with the U.S. National Team.

The team also boasts one of the most talented recruiting classes in the country. That group includes 2002 U.S. Olympians Krissy Wendell and Natalie Darwitz up front and reigning Minnesota Ms. Hockey award winner Ashley Albrecht on the blueline.

The 2002-03 Gophers have only three seniors on a 21-player roster that includes 13 underclassmen.

“We had a young team last year, we will be young again this season,” Halldorson said.

While players and coaches know there will be higher expectations of them this season, they will continue to work on the same things that allowed them to open so many eyes a year ago.

“Our goal is to take all the positive intangibles that we created last year in terms of work ethic, character, heart and chemistry, and add talent to that,” Halldorson said.

“Hopefully our players remember what made us successful last year and we can just build on it this season.”

Battle in the Crease

sophomore goaltenders Jody Horak and Brenda Reinen will continue to compete for the Gophers’ starting job this season.

Similar to last season, neither one has emerged as a clear-cut starter through practice.

Horak played in 18 games, collecting a 14-2-2 record. She posted six shutouts and became only one of two rookies to be named to the All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association- Women’s League first team.

Reinen held a 12-1-4 record in 17 games and started in the WCHA Final Five Championship game against Wisconsin, where she stopped 19 shots, including a penalty shot. For her performance, Reinen was named to the WCHA All-Tournament Team.

“I really think they were two of the best goalies in the country as freshmen,” said Halldorson, “which is pretty amazing.”

Halldorson credits goaltending coach and former men’s hockey goalie Jeff Moen for much of their development.

New Arena to Open Soon

the finishing touches are being put on Ridder Arena, the newly constructed women’s hockey arena, and will be ready for the home opener against St. Cloud State on Saturday, Oct. 19.

The building was designed to give players and fans a more intimate setting. It has a capacity of 3,400 people (one-third the capacity of Mariucci) and a smaller rink than the Olympic-size ice next-door.