Recent drubbing no harm to surprising women’s hockey team

by Aaron Blake

The second-ranked and WCHA-leading Minnesota women’s hockey team was outscored 22-0 last weekend.

But the Gophers (11-2-3, 7-1-2 WCHA) feel no pain after a drubbing from the U.S. National team that will represent the country in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Olympics.

Following the 16-0 and 6-0 exhibition losses, Minnesota plays St. Cloud State (4-9-1, 3-6-1) on Friday at Mariucci Arena before heading to St. Cloud for the second game of the series on Jan. 5.

“The way our team responded in the second game was really impressive,” senior captain Laura Slominski said. “We went out with a lot of heart and character and I was proud of our team.”

Following the 16-0 thrashing, Minnesota came out trailing only 2-0 after two periods on Saturday against arguably the greatest women’s hockey team to ever lace up skates.

Coach Laura Halldorson compared her team’s performance in the second game to the way her team rebounded from a 7-0 loss in Duluth to tie the Bulldogs 1-1 the next day.

Despite allowing four goals in the third period on Saturday, the Gophers felt good about last weekend as a whole.

“Like we said from the start, this (weekend) was a learning experience,” Slominski said. “We just have to take it for what it’s worth.”

Fellow senior captain Tracy Engstrom had similar sentiments regarding the National Team tacking on goal after goal in Friday’s game. Halldorson will not allow her team to be victorious by more than 10 scores.

“We know what their goals are,” Engstrom said. “Heading into the Olympic games in a couple months, I wouldn’t expect anybody to hold back.”

Much like the 17-0-0 National Team, Minnesota has met and exceeded most of its preseason objectives.

Despite a winning tradition, the Gophers looked to rebuild this season. Minnesota has consistently suited up an 18-player team consisting of 13 underclassmen and nine freshmen.

“I would be lying if I said I expected us to be No. 2 in the country at this point,” Halldorson said. “That’s fair to say.”

On its way to an 11-2-3 record, Minnesota has gone 7-1 in games decided by one goal, including 3-0-3 in overtime affairs. The Gophers head into Friday’s game riding a 10-game unbeaten streak (8-0-2).

“We’ve won several close games against (ranked) teams,” Halldorson said. “That says a lot for the mentality and personality of our players.”

Minnesota will try to increase the margin of victory against St. Cloud State on Friday. The unranked Huskies are coming off a split in Connecticut and represent the Gophers’ final game before winter break.

Though the pause interrupts the Huskies series, Halldorson sees the rest as welcomed.

“As much as we’re doing well and we want to keep going, a break is always good,” Halldorson said. “In the past when we’ve had significant breaks, our team has come back rejuvenated.”

The Gophers return Jan. 5 to play five games in eight days against St. Cloud State, St. Lawrence, and Bemidji State.

“We’ll whip (the team) back into shape once they get back,” Halldorson said.