Curtin lends hand to youthful blueline group

Aaron Blake

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team swept WCHA lightweight Mankato State last weekend – wins leaving players and coaches satisfied but not overly-confident.

The Gophers know next weekend will present a bigger challenge as the team travels to Minnesota-Duluth for a tilt with the defending national champion Bulldogs.

“We all have things to work on,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “They’re so young that it’s going to take experience and some time.”

More specifically, Halldorson continues to tweak the defense in order to find solid pairings.

One of her strategies involves dropping junior Ronda Curtin, the third-highest returning scorer, to defense. Curtin, the only upperclassman to play a game on the blueline this season, started Saturday’s game and played much of the time paired with either Stacy Troumbly or Cecilia Retelle.

Curtin and the defense helped limit Minnesota State to one goal on 46 shots.

“She’s really a forward and she’s been helping us out on defense,” Halldorson said. “I thought she had a great weekend – especially for not having a lot of experience playing defense.”

In addition to Halldorson’s enthusiasm, Curtin seems to enjoy the switch as well.

“I love defense,” Curtin stated simply.

With Curtin playing defense and three of the top four scorers gone from last season, Minnesota needs other players to add offense.

Freshman Kelly Stephens had won a spot on the team’s first line in the first three weeks of practice and capitalized in both games against the Mavericks.

After her line’s center, La Toya Clarke, scored the first goal of the season in the first period on Friday, Stephens relieved some tension by adding another in the third period.

The goal was Stephens’ first as a Gopher, and she added a goal and an assist on Saturday, earning WCHA rookie of the week honors.

“(Halldorson) told me she wanted me to produce for her and to step up and be a key player,” Stephens said.

Stephens stood out last weekend thanks to an aggressive style of play. Her speed allowed her to blow by the defense and score her first goal.

“I go in thinking I want to win every one-on-one battle and encounter,” she said. “It’s part of my personality. I don’t like the puck being taken away from me.”

Besides the contributions of Stephens and Clarke, linemate Laura Slominski scored a goal this weekend as well.

“That line has a lot of speed and that’s one big reason why I have them together right now,” Halldorson said.

 

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