If Minnesota’s second-ranked women’s hockey team had mandatory lunch meetings, freshman forward Andrea Nichols would show up with a hard hat and lunch pail in tow.
That’s the type of player she is.
The Mt. Iron, Minn., native is known for her work ethic, and that was evident at practice Tuesday afternoon at Mariucci Arena.
The Gophers were playing three-on-three full ice, with 30-second shifts when Nichols won the puck and started to break in on net. Coach Laura Halldorson blew her whistle to signal a line change, and Nichols threw up her hands in mock disgust. She wanted to keep going and working.
“Ever since I first saw her play in high school I thought of her as a really tenacious player who works hard, (is) very gritty, (has a) very blue-collar style but also has tremendous skill,” Halldorson said. “(She) proved that she is a goal-scorer in high school and has now been able to contribute offensively for our team as well.”
Nichols ranks seventh on the team in scoring with 18 points, tallying nine goals and nine assists on the season. And it’s in big games where she makes the biggest impact.
She had two goals in Minnesota’s 7-3 victory Feb. 8 over then-top-ranked Dartmouth. Nichols had the second assist on the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory over Wisconsin Feb. 14 to give the Gophers the conference lead. Last weekend she posted three points in two wins over Minnesota-Duluth.
But the pressure situations are not something she said she always feels comfortable with.
“I don’t know if I’d say I like them,” Nichols said. “But it feels awfully good after you contribute like that.”
Nichols’ contributions are appreciated by teammates and coaches, who said they need offense from as many people as possible.
“We can’t rely on one or two people,” Halldorson said. “It’s imperative that you get scoring from other sources, and Andrea is certainly one of those players that has stepped up and gotten big goals and great assists for us.”
Junior defender Stacy Troumbly played alongside Nichols at Hibbing High School and said that Nichols was dubbed the “slippery one” in high school because she could slip by any player with her speed.
Now Nichols tends to slip by without recognition off the ice.
“She’s a very good player that doesn’t get a lot of credit, but she has not really needed it,” Troumbly said. “She just loves to play the game.”
That passion for the ice helped Nichols make Minnesota women’s hockey history and earn plenty of respect. She won the 2003 Ms. Hockey Award, becoming the first nonmetro player to take home the honor.
“Coming from the Hibbing program and the Iron Range in general, it’s a big honor just to get in the top five,”
Nichols said. “It’s a big thing not coming from around here, because you don’t get as much publicity up in the range as down here.”
This fact is not lost on her coach.
“To win as an out-state player means that you really have to prove that you deserve it,” Halldorson said. “She proved herself over time and it says a lot for her work ethic and her skill.”