Women’s hockey draws Ohio State in tournament

Aaron Blake

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team entered the 2001 WCHA Final Five having won the conference regular season championship and with high hopes for repeating as national champion.

“If we have a good weekend, we will have a great chance of being selected for the inaugural NCAA Women’s Frozen Four, which will be held on our campus March 23 and 25,” Gophers coach Laura Halldorson wrote in her March 7, 2001, college hockey diary on CNNSI.com.

The situation is nearly the same for the 2001-02 version of the Gophers. No. 1 Minnesota (26-3-5, 19-2-3 WCHA) will play Ohio State (18-13-4, 10-12-3) on Friday at 7:05 p.m. in Blaine’s Fogerty Arena.

Rated first in the Pairwise Rankings, the Gophers must avoid stumbling down the stretch.

Last season, a loss and a tie to eventual national champion Minnesota-Duluth the weekend before the tournament sent the Gophers into a tailspin. They proceeded to lose in the semifinals and third place game to Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively.

Finishing 0-3-1 forced Minnesota out of its house while the 2001 NCAA Frozen Four participants visited.

Engstrom is one of only eight Gophers on the Minnesota bench from last year’s conference tournament. Nine freshmen and senior Sarma Pone, who didn’t play last season, make up the majority of this year’s squad.

In addition, this year’s team boasts a better conference record (19-2-3) than last season (18-4-2) and finished the regular season in stronger fashion than last year’s team. The Gophers dominated St. Cloud State 4-1 and 9-1 last weekend.

Though inexperience is often seen as a burden in the postseason, this is hardly the attitude with Minnesota.

“Right now I look at the youth as a positive,” Engstrom said. “The young players are so full of energy and excited about everything, and when you get older you might take things for granted.

“With how the season has gone so far and how many overtime games we’ve been in, even though they’re freshmen and they’re young I think they’re experienced enough.”

Halldorson points to a certain inconsistency her team suffered the second half of last season.

“I do (think we’ve been consistent this year),” Halldorson said. “We’ve been able to continue to find ways to win games because of our effort and our attitude. Last year, our effort was not consistent down the stretch.”

ï Junior Ronda Curtin was named WCHA Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year at the league’s awards banquet Thursday night. Halldorson, who led the Gophers to their third-straight regular-season title, was named Coach of the Year.

Curtin and goaltender Jody Horak earned all-WCHA first team honors while forward Kelly Stephens made the second team.

Aaron Blake covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]