Rookie Hegland finds new team to lead

by Tim Nichols

The Gophers women’s hockey team will have a new player on their team this year who should be familiar to Minnesota sports fans, even though she hasn’t played hockey competitively in over four years.
Call Amber Hegland — a graduate of the softball program, and now a rookie on the hockey team — is the Gophers’ renaissance woman.
“I was recruited to play hockey, but I wanted to stay at home,” the Farmington senior said. “It’s a big opportunity for me to have another year of college athletics but also to play in the sport that I grew to love.”
Hegland earned second team all-Big Ten honors four times in four different positions on the diamond.
Her stand-out performance gave her the opportunity to play professional softball this summer for the Georgia Pride in the Women’s Professional Fastpitch League. But women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson suggested Hegland make room for some ice time — a piece of advice Hegland soon followed.
And even though Hegland had not played competitive hockey in several years, the Gophers’ lone senior was voted co-captain along with sophomore Kris Scholz.
Hegland was very surprised that she was named captain in her first and only year of women’s hockey, but it’s obvious Hegland’s teammates respect her; the 22-year-old now goes by “Grandma.”
“I was shocked. It’s just a great opportunity for me to help the kids,” Hegland said. “Hopefully, I can help them with the four years of college experience. Definitely, it’s a great honor.”
Hegland’s leadership abilities are what caught the eye of Halldorson.
“I think what Amber adds to our program is definitely leadership,” Halldorson said. “I think she’s also a very aggressive player; a strong skater whose going to be digging in the corners. She’s a smart player, too, with a good sense of the game.”
Hegland probably couldn’t have come around at a better time. Although the Gophers return fifteen of their players from last year’s squad, they’re still a predominately young team, with 17 sophomores, four freshmen and only one junior and senior.
The Gophers are still young, but there’s been a change of attitude now that most players have a year under their belts.
“One thing that’s really different is the intensity level at practice,” Scholz said. “Everybody is just pushing everybody. There’s a lot more chatter, where as last year everyone was trying to find out where they belong. This year, everybody basically knows what their role is going to be.”
Minnesota will also be looking for their new players to have a big impact this year.
One of those is 1998 Ms. Hockey award winner freshman Laura Slominski, who Halldorson called, “the hardest-working player I have ever seen” since she’s been watching Minnesota high school hockey.
The most notable rookies will be Jenny Schmidgall, a member of the gold medal-winning 1998 Olympic women’s hockey team, and Winny Brodt, a transfer student from New Hampshire and one of Minnesota’s best-known players.
“Here we have unbelievable talent,” Scholz said. “In the high schools, there are one or two great players on a team and that’s it, where as here you can’t even count the number of great players on the team.”
For the Gophers to exceed last year’s fourth place finish in the American Women’s Hockey Coaches Association final four, they will need contributions from their entire roster, including the newcomers.
“I think everyone on our team is excited this year about finishing stronger than we did last year,” Halldorson said, “which is going to be tough to do because our competition has improved. But I think we have a great group this year and it should be a lot of fun.”