Teammates overshadow Killewald’s importance

by Tim Nichols

Minnesota’s women’s hockey program has become accustomed to the hoopla that has surrounded it throughout its first campaign.
More than 8,000 fans showed up for the Gophers’ first game. There has been extensive media coverage about the team, including an article in USA Today. The team boasts a No. 5 national ranking according to the Ratings Percentage Index. Minnesota also has the nation’s leading scorer and a line that is one of the sport’s most explosive.
But there is one player who hasn’t been given much ink. Without her, though, all of this attention might not be warranted.
Freshman goaltender Erica Killewald has been as consistent as a sunrise. She leads the nation in shutouts with four. She also has a gaudy 2.13 goals against average, coupled with a .909 save percentage. But because of her low-key style of play, Killewald has, for the most part, been overlooked.
“There are some flashy goalies that can make the easy saves look hard,” head coach Laura Halldorson said. “She’s just very steady and plays solidly positioning-wise and takes up a lot of space.”
At 5-foot-10, Killewald is one of the tallest players on the team. She stands out not only because of her height, but also because of her focus and intensity.
“When I’m on the ice I like to be focused,” the Troy, Mich. native said. “I try to anticipate the next shot, so I think that makes me not so much flashy. But I’m always there, on my toes. I think that helps me play to my potential.”
One common misconception about goalies is that they are the oddballs of the team — that they religiously follow numerous superstitions and rituals.
For the most part, that’s not the case with Killewald. Although she does admit to saying “thank-you” to the goalposts sometimes, she relies on her own ability to carry herself during games.
“You definitely have to have confidence, believing in yourself,” she said.
Halldorson agreed, saying, “One thing I liked about Erica is that she is a very independent and confident person, and I think that carries over to how she handles situations on the ice. If she’s confident, hopefully she’ll be consistent. And if she’s consistent, she’ll be reliable.”
One person who had some prior knowledge of Killewald before she joined the team is leading scorer Nadine Muzerall. The two played against each other in the prestigious Hockey Night in Boston Showcase in 1997. Killewald took home the honor of Most Valuable Goalie at the showcase.
“I do remember playing against her in the finals, and it came down to a shootout,” said Muzerall. “I don’t remember if it was her I went against, but if it was Erica, she probably stoned me.”
Playing at the USA Hockey Olympic Development Camp last year made Killewald a prized recruit coming out of Troy High School. Minnesota, however, was not her first choice.
“I didn’t get into the Ivy League schools like I originally wanted,” Killewald said. “Coach Halldorson called me up, and she sounded like a really good person, and I just wanted to step up and start the program right.”
The facilities and accommodations Minnesota offered were important in Killewald’s ultimate decision.
“There were some other schools looking at her, and I think that the visit was key,” Halldorson said. “She liked what she heard about the program, and like all the other non-Minnesotans. She took a chance. We’re glad she decided to come.”
Halldorson’s reward has been Killewald’s consistency this season. A lot of the pressure to succeed in the upcoming national championship tournament in Boston — assuming the Gophers are among the four teams selected — will fall on Killewald’s shoulders.
The freshman is taking the “one game at a time” approach toward the tournament.
“We don’t know what’s going on right now, but we’re just hanging in there, trying to play our best each game, and hopefully we’ll get invited,” Killewald said.
Maybe if that happens, Killewald will finally get the attention she deserves.