Women’s hockey lacks size on the ice, but not goals

Noah Seligman

Minnesota’s top-ranked women’s hockey team is not comprised of the biggest skaters in the country. The Gophers have nine players on their roster who are 5-feet-4-inches or shorter. Conference foe Ohio State has five players in that height range. Minnesota State University-Mankato and three-time defending champion Minnesota-Duluth has only four players in that size group.

But the Gophers do not see their lack of size as an impediment to their season goals.

“Being little, you have a little disadvantage,” freshman forward Andrea Nichols said. “But you also have advantages of being maybe quicker in and out of the corners, or being quick all around.”

Nichols should know. The Mount Iron, Minn., native stands 5-feet-2-inches tall, but she plays big. Nichols won the 2003 Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award, given to the top senior high school female player in the state. She was also named the 2003 Associated Press player of the year.

The Gophers’ speed poses problems for their opponents and can trigger some more physical play on the ice.

“When you have one team that has more skill than the other, those are the kind of things that teams use because they want to try and neutralize the differences,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “When you have some of the players of the caliber we have, opponents might not be able to counteract that without using some slowdown techniques.”

The Minnesota players said they can adjust to facing physical opponents.

“You learn how to play the body a lot more,” junior forward Stacy Troumbly said. “If you take a hit, you know how to stay on your feet. You know how to push back.”

Next season, North Dakota will join the WCHA, increasing the league to eight teams. But in recent years, individual squads are making the biggest changes in conference play.

“Now a lot of teams are getting bigger,” Troumbly said. “Every year, our league is becoming more and more physical.”

Despite being smaller than most of their opponents, the Gophers contend they can still play physical hockey.

“I think we do some of those same things,” Halldorson said. “To play defense you have to create contact. You have to get good stick position and good body position.”

In women’s hockey, body checking is not allowed, but there is still plenty of body contact. That does not seem to hinder Minnesota players.

Sophomore Natalie Darwitz led the Gophers in scoring last season as a freshman, despite being one of the smaller players on the ice.

The two team captains, La Toya Clarke and Kelsey Bills, are slightly undersized as well.

But Minnesota is just too fast and too furious for most opponents to contend with.

“We are all around probably a little bit smaller team than a lot,” Nichols said. “But our speed makes up for it.”

Despite being small in stature, the Gophers are a big obstacle for their opponents. And Minnesota still stands tall in the big picture.