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Switch to blueline taken in stride by talented Curtin

Minnesota women’s hockey captain Laura Slominski knew Ronda Curtin before they were teammates for the Gophers. Training programs and high school hockey pitted the two as opponents.

In 1996, Curtin’s freshman year at Roseville High School, her team met with Slominski’s Burnsville squad in the state tournament.

“Back when we played her, I didn’t like her too much,” Slominski said. “She was so good and walked all over us.”

Curtin’s team beat Slominski’s squad 5-2 in the championship game. Roseville went on to win during Curtin’s senior year as well, an accomplishment she included with Minnesota’s 2000 national championship as one of her greatest moments.

The 1999 Ms. Hockey award winner set a new standard for career scoring with 465 points. Ronda’s younger sister Renee bettered the mark with 544 points – the most ever by a boy or girl in Minnesota high school hockey history.

Renee also earned Ms. Hockey honors while at Roseville and is a freshman with the Gophers this season, though unable to play for medical reasons.

In her freshman season at Minnesota, Curtin was fourth on the team with 53 points in 39 games at forward and was third in the nation in power play goals.

Now a junior, Curtin has been moved to defense by coach Laura Halldorson, giving a new job description to one of the greatest offensive threats in Minnesota women’s hockey history.

“Everybody knew we didn’t have enough defenders this year,” Curtin said. “They put me on defense the first day of practice and I was stuck back there.”

Curtin’s switch to defense has led to a much stronger output than most expected from the unit. Besides Curtin, the team hasn’t dressed an upperclassman defender or goaltender this year.

Not including a 7-0 drubbing at Minnesota-Duluth, the defense has allowed only 10 goals in nine games. Before last weekend, Minnesota’s offense ranked sixth out of seven WCHA teams in goals scored, meaning the defense kept the Gophers atop the standings.

“She’s stepped up and played a position she might not be comfortable with,” Slominski said. “She’s adjusted to that and never complains.

“She’s doing what she needs to do to help the team. I can’t say enough about her and her play (on defense).”

Though forced to give up the puck more than she’d like to on defense, Curtin still ranks 15th in the WCHA in points scored, with three goals and five assists in 10 games.

“She still creates offense,” Halldorson said. “The game-winner at Mercyhurst was huge for us. She’s created a lot of good scoring chances.”

Curtin has traditionally been someone who takes on tasks others won’t.

Her freshman year was the first season her high school had a women’s hockey team. Like most women’s hockey players, Curtin has spent much of her career battling with the boys.

“In Squirts and Pee-Wees, she was always able to keep up with the boys and even outscore them,” Curtin’s father, Ron, said.

Ronda has three older brothers, and she credits them with influencing her to play hockey.

“I was always playing hockey in the driveway with my brothers and my sister,” Curtin said.

A player known for her scoring touch, Curtin noticed one small difference between offense and defense.

“I can’t just stand by the net anymore,” she said with a smile.

“In my first game I was a little uncomfortable. I feel more comfortable now that I’ve played more games.” The former record-breaking forward paused before adding: “It’s different.”

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

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