Gophers head East for championship game rematch

Monica Wright

If the Minnesota women’s hockey team thought the 2000-2001 season would be spent reveling in its championship title, the schedule had something else in mind.
This weekend the Gophers make the first of three major road trips to take on Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference powerhouses Brown and Harvard.
Only four weeks into the season, the Gophers face a national championship rematch against the Bears.
But the circumstances and the teams are both a lot different.
While Minnesota lost only three players last year — Winny Brodt to the National team, Shannon Kennedy to graduation, and Crystal Nicholas to a transfer — Brown lost five of its top seven scorers along with 2000 Patty Kazmaier Award winning goaltender Ali Brewer.
Adding to the Gophers advantage, Minnesota has six games under their belt this year while both Brown and Harvard open its seasons this weekend.
And with the Gophers rough start this season, junior Laura Slominski said this factor alone gives Minnesota more strength as a team than their opponent.
“I definitely think we have an advantage because everyone usually has a rocky start to the year like we did,” Slominski said. “But with our first six games we’ve gotten to know each other and we keep on improving each time.”
But Minnesota doesn’t hold every advantage over Brown. Not only will the Bears be out to avenge last season’s title game loss, but they get to do it at their own rink — a place the Gophers have never won.
The rink itself also poses a problem for the Gophers. Used to practicing and playing on Mariucci’s 200’x 100′ surface, they must quickly adjust to Meehan Auditorium’s 200’x 85′ dimensions.
Coach Laura Halldorson isn’t shy about admitting the problems smaller dimensions have caused her team in the past.
“We can’t skate wide or use our speed on the smaller rink,” Halldorson said last week. “We get too bunched up and our passing suffers.”
But freshman Cecilia Retelle said knowing their limitations on the small rink has helped the Gophers prepare in practice for what lies ahead.
“We’ve been preparing all week for the rink and getting used to the smaller size,” Retelle said. “We practiced how they’re going to play our systems on their home ice.”
All the preparation hasn’t just been to take on the Bears.
Harvard, who handed Minnesota its worst home loss last season with an 8-2 massacre, is ranked second behind the Gophers in the Sports Illustrated for Women poll and boasts Tammy Shewchuk and Jennifer Botterill from the Canadian National team.
But Slominski says rankings and past records will make little difference when the teams face off this weekend.
“Polls don’t really mean much to us. It’s too early in the season and the east coast teams haven’t shown what they can do yet,” Slominski said. “Besides we’re all new teams in a new season.”

Monica Wright covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]