Women’s hockey opens new arena with shutout

Brett Angel

Minnesota women’s hockey players took center stage Saturday afternoon in the team’s 2002 home opener against rival St. Cloud State.

But it was the brand new Ridder Arena that stole the show.

An announced crowd of 3,239 showed up to see the Gophers’ first game in the first arena ever built solely for women’s college hockey, nearing the building’s capacity of 3,400.

It was the largest crowd to witness a Minnesota women’s hockey game in approximately five years, second only to the first game in school history at Mariucci Arena, which drew 6,854 fans.

“I love it,” Gopher fan and season ticket holder Linda Donaghue said of the team’s new home. “It’s just great to see the number of people and the support that they’re showing for the team.”

Donaghue, whose daughter Tracy played on Minnesota’s 2000 national championship team, was at that first game in 1997 and said she hadn’t seen anything like it since – until Saturday.

Kathleen Ridder, who donated $750,000 toward the new facility, dropped the ceremonial first puck at the 1997 game and was back at center ice Saturday doing the same.

Interim University President Robert Bruininks, athletics director Joel Maturi and former head of the women’s athletics department Chris Voelz were also present for the event.

As for the game, Minnesota (4-0, 2-0 WCHA) dominated the Huskies for the second straight night, getting goals from eight different players on its way to an 8-0 shutout.

The smoke from pregame fireworks still clouded the air when junior Jerilyn Glenn scored the first goal in Ridder Arena history just 4:16 into the contest – sending the crowd into frenzy.

Glenn, who was reminded after the game that she was now the answer to a future Gophers trivia question, tapped in a rebound after the initial save was made on a Noelle Sutton breakaway attempt.

“That felt pretty good,” Glenn said of hearing the crowd erupt for the first time.

Natalie Darwitz, Krissy Wendell and La Toya Clarke contributed three points apiece as the Gophers methodically picked apart a St. Cloud State team hampered by injuries.

Minnesota outscored the Huskies (1-3, 1-3) by a lopsided margin of 18-1 in the home-and-home series after prevailing 10-1 Friday night at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.

Forward Kristy Oonincx scored her first collegiate hat trick and notched five points in Friday’s game, tying a career-high.

“They’re just a dangerous team offensively,” St. Cloud State head coach Jason Lesteberg said. “They’re going to continue and continue to get those opportunities and eventually, they’re going to fall.”

Minnesota head coach Laura Halldorson views Ridder Arena as another weapon in the Gophers’ already loaded arsenal.

“You put the puck in the net and the place goes nuts,” Halldorson said. “It really gives us a home-ice advantage and something that’s unique in women’s college hockey right now.”

The second-ranked Gophers improved their record to 4-0 with the weekend sweep and travel to Columbus, Ohio, on Friday for a match-up with Ohio State (2-2, 2-0).

Brett Angel covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]