WCHA champs starting over fresh this season

The Minnesota women’s hockey team is trying hard to avenge a disappointing finish to last season.

Despite winning the WCHA regular season title, the team was unable to defend its national championship after consecutive losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin in the WCHA tournament.

“It’s something that I thought about at the beginning of the summer,” co-captain Tracy Engstrom said. “But I also think it’s something we have to put behind us now.”

Laura Slominski, the other captain, added, “I think it was a good learning experience for those players coming back.”

She added that one of the goals for the team this season was to have no regrets.

On the other hand, only half of this year’s team experienced last year’s disappointment.

The team begins the 2001-02 season with 11 newcomers among the 21 players on the roster. Only five players are upperclassmen.

“It’s definitely going to be a rebuilding year,” head coach Laura Halldorson said.

Nine players graduated after last season and Winny Brodt, a key defensive force, has decided to take the year off. Halldorson expects to have Brodt back next year for her senior season.

“What’s great about having a young team is there’s a lot of enthusiasm,” Halldorson said. “They’re excited to be here, they work hard, and they’re willing to learn and to get better.”

The forward position is perhaps the most solid with La Toya Clarke, Slominski, Engstrom, and Ronda Curtin returning. All four will represent the WCHA All-Stars this weekend at the Xcel Energy Center.

Curtin’s sister Renee, Kelly Stephens, and Kristy Ooninex are the important newcomers on offense this year.

The defense is considerably younger than the offense, losing four seniors and Bethany Petersen to injury. Returning sophomores Melissa Coulombe and Kelsey Bills have the most experience. Freshman Stacy Troumbly will likely see plenty of action along with Coulombe and Bills.

“We might be moving some forwards back every once-in-a-while to bolster our defense,” Halldorson said.

Goaltending also experienced a big loss during the offseason, graduating Erica Killewald. Sophomore Stephanie Johnson, who played six games last year, will see a lot of action with 2000 Minnesota state senior goalie of the year Jody Horak likely being given a chance as well.

Though the Gophers have three goaltenders, Halldorson is encouraging friendly competition among them and does not feel it is necessary to redshirt either Horak or fellow freshman Brenda Reinen.

“I hope it’s close enough where how you do during the week affects who plays on the weekend,” Halldorson said.

On the bench, the Gophers added former Minnesota goaltender Jeff Moen to coach the three young stoppers.

The team had a meeting last weekend and set realistic goals for its rebuilding season.

“Things that are within our control include our work ethic … we want to enjoy the season, we want to not have any regrets when the season is over, and really appreciate the opportunity that we have to be part of the program,” Halldorson said.

Falling short last season can give the Gophers either an incentive to work harder or it can haunt them. The women’s hockey team is determined not to live in the past, and return to form as the country’s best.

 

Aaron Blake covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]