ophers to host women’s hockey championship

Monica Wright

Long ago, Minnesota was declared the hockey capital of the United States. And though the home of American hockey is no longer Minnesota’s Iron Range, the Twin Cities will host another hockey milestone this spring.
Coming on the heels of the Gopher women’s 2000 American Women’s Collegiate Hockey Alliance championship last March, Minnesota will host the inaugural NCAA Women’s Collegiate Ice Hockey Championship.
The tournament will be played at Mariucci Arena. Two semi-final games will be played on Thursday, March 23, with the puck dropping for the NCAA championship on March 25.
“We are excited to be in the position of hosting the first NCAA tournament,” women’s athletics director Chris Voelz said. “I have a lot of confidence the nation will see a wonderful inaugural championship.”
In the past, the women’s college hockey season has ended with the AWCHA National Championship, a four-team tournament Minnesota has attended every season during the programs three-year existence.
The 2000-2001 season marks the first year women’s hockey will feature an NCAA-sponsored tournament. Sixty-one colleges currently compete in three divisions of women’s college hockey.
In the same vein as the AWCHA Championship, the top-ranked teams from the east and west will receive automatic berths while the remaining two teams will be at-large selections.
Though the Gophers are the defending national champions, they do not get an automatic tournament berth.
Despite winning the AWCHA tournament last year with a formidable record, coach Laura Halldorson feels the team’s success was not the sole reason for their selection as hosts.
“I’m sure it played a role, but so did Minnesota’s commitment to women’s hockey and its tradition of hosting championships,” Halldorson said.
Citing the upcoming Women’s Amateur National Championship and the Women’s World Championship, both to be held in Minneapolis, Halldorson added, “Minneapolis is the place to be for women’s hockey. We’re proud of our success but we recognize those who came before us.”
Tournament preparations have already begun with prices for both games set at $40 for adults and $36 for students and seniors. Voelz said women’s athletics hopes to sell 6,000 tickets for both games and is planning a television broadcast of the games.
Ticket sales will begin with a pre-holiday sale in December and go on sale to the general public in January.
The women’s team has lead the nation in attendance for the past three years and also holds the record for single game attendance at 6,854.
Should the tournament follow the path of the six other NCAA championship hosted by Minnesota women’s athletics, the Gophers should expect record-setting crowds.
“6,000 tickets is aggressive but we’ve seen that many already,” Voelz said. “The die-hard fans will come regardless, but we hope to draw the curious and interested to check out women’s hockey.
“And if we do it well, we’ll get the chance to do it again.”
A sell-out crowd would mean attendance six times Minnesota’s average.
But team captain Kris Scholz said the team is excited about the possibility of competing on home ice in front of a home crowd.
Adding to the excitement is a chance for this year’s senior class, the first to play women’s hockey for Minnesota, to mark the end of their careers with a national championship repeat on their own ice.
“Imagine being seniors, playing your last game for the national championship in front of 6,000 fans,” Scholz said. “I remember playing the home tournament my sophomore year and it was the most amazing intensity, I had chills during warm-ups.”

Monica Wright welcomes comments at [email protected]