‘Smurf line’ contributing in big ways, despite small stature

Andrea Nichols, Becky Wacker and Whitney Graft have combined for 27 points this season.

Brian Deutsch

Just as the Minnesota Wild has the Slav Line and the Red Wings had the Russian Five, the Minnesota women’s hockey team now has the “smurf line.”

The scoring line of seniors Andrea Nichols, Becky Wacker and junior Whitney Graft have been given the honor of being named after the fun-loving, blue-tinted cartoon characters – not exactly intimidating in the hockey world.

“We’re not the biggest players on the team, so we just say we’re the smurfs,” Graft said. “Last week in practice we had blue jerseys and our coach said we were the “smurf line” and it kind of stuck.”

Although they are more than “just three apples tall,” the “smurf line” is comprised of the three shortest skaters on the team.

Nichols is the shortest on the team at 5 feet 2 inches, while Wacker and Graft both stand at 5 feet 4 inches.

“I think (the nickname) is because they’re not the tallest players on the team,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “They don’t play small though.”

The “smurf line” is not only the shortest on the team but also the oldest. Nichols is the eldest team member – one of two senior forwards along with Wacker, while Graft is one of the oldest juniors.

The size and age factors have caused playful banter and friendly competition between the smurfs and the younger lines.

“There’s only friendly ribbing between the lines,” Wacker said. “We’re all athletes. We’re competitive and we push each other.”

Two weeks ago, the “smurf line” was responsible for the lone goal in the finale against Minnesota-Duluth last weekend. Against Niagara, Nichols and Graft hooked up for a goal that helped lift the Gophers over the Purple Eagles 4-3.

“We are all kind of the same player,” Wacker said. “We do the little things right, and I think that is what makes us successful.”

Over the season, the smurfs have been one of the team’s most productive lines. They have combined to produce 27 points – 12 goals and 15 assists.

“From the beginning when they put us together, we just kind of clicked,” Nichols said. “We’re all kind of alike, we’re all quick and we like to get in the corner and wreak havoc.”

Nichols and Halldorson credit the line’s aggressive play as the reason behind its productivity this season.

“When you put three blue-collar kids together like that who aren’t afraid to get knocked around and will sacrifice their bodies, it’s easy to see why it has been paying off for them,” Halldorson said. “They aren’t scoring beautiful goals every time, but it’s out of hard work that they are successful.”

Nichols is now tied for the points lead with 12. The second-year captain has scored seven goals while notching five assists.

Graft is only one point behind the leaders with four goals and seven assists.

Wacker hasn’t been quite as productive as her line mates, but with one goal and three assists, she is more than contributing to the effort.

“I really like the line, they’re all veterans, so they’ve been around and understand our systems and what we are trying to do,” coach Halldorson said. “They’re smart hockey players and they all work hard.”

According to Nichols the “smurf line” works just as well off the ice as they do on it.

She and Wacker live together while the third smurf, Graft, lives right across the hall.

“(Becky) likes to cook, so she does the cooking and I do the cleaning,” Nichols said. “She’s a pretty good cook.”

Wacker and Graft both added that the off-ice relationship helps the line on the ice.

“The three of us have a great relationship,” Graft said. “We all hang out together and we just have a blast.”