Despite continued success, women’s hockey team struggles to draw crowds

Coaches and players just want fans to come and check out one game.

C.J. Spang

Two NCAA championships, three Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season titles and three WCHA playoff titles won in the past five seasons.

No, I’m not talking about Minnesota’s men’s hockey team. I’m talking about the more successful women’s team.

Didn’t know that? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. After all, only an average of 1,344 people have attended each of the 15 home games this season, which begs the question: Why doesn’t anyone go to the games?

I’d never been to a women’s hockey game here at Minnesota until a few weeks ago when I filled in for a reporter to cover the games for the Daily. If it hadn’t been for work, I probably never would have gone.

The reason? The women’s team doesn’t play “real” hockey because in women’s hockey you’re not allowed to check. Basically, I felt the women weren’t tough enough, which I think is the opinion of many.

So in search of the truth, which all good journalists try to find, my male ego and I decided to find out how tough these women really are by going through one of their off-ice summer workouts.

I figured as an average college guy who doesn’t work out but can walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded, I should have no problem doing what finely tuned Division I athletes do in preparation for their season.

Enter Cal Dietz and Mike Malone. Dietz has been the strength coach for the women’s hockey team for six years and Malone has assisted him since October.

They decided to put me through a workout comparable to what junior defenseman Anya Miller would do on a Wednesday in July.

The workout began with a dynamic warm-up consisting of about 10 different exercises like jogging, skipping and high-knees.

The next portion consisted of cone agility drills designed to improve quickness and explosion, specific to the starting and stopping of hockey. Those two portions last about 15 minutes combined, and when I finished, I was slightly dizzy and had a piercing side ache. My notes read, “I’m pretty sure I’m going to die.”

Next was the weight lifting. But this wasn’t like the weight lifting I was used to, which involved doing a set, walking around, getting a drink, chatting with friends, then, maybe doing another set if I felt like it. No, this was do a set, now go do something else while the weight is changed, then come back and do another set, then go back and do something else, repeat.

I did get breaks so I wouldn’t die. Dying would have been too easy. But the breaks weren’t long enough for me to relax.

The best example of this was when I was doing what equated to a hamstring stretch with a giant rubber band. This wasn’t nearly the most strenuous activity I did, but tiring nonetheless. After a set, Malone looked at me said, “Now go do pull-ups.”

The look on my face undoubtedly said it all.

“Can you do a pull-up?” he asked.

“I would hope so,” I replied.

“Well, Anya would do eight right now,” he said.

“Eight?” I quipped while my eyes bulged out of my head in disbelief.

I did six.

Then came another set of stretches, followed by three more pull-ups. After another set of stretches, Malone got a rubber band to assist me in my pull-ups – I barely mustered three.

Some of the other exercises included clean pulls, lat pulldowns, squats, dips and bench press, among others.

But the workout didn’t end with weight lifting. After burning out on my final sets of bench press and lat pulldowns, Malone asked me if I had the energy to do the conditioning.

“I might as well give it a shot,” I said.

Conditioning consisted of four sets of sprints and shuttle runs. I did one set, lasting no more than five minutes before wobbling across the finishing line with a labored, “I’m done.”

“I don’t know how many people would be able to go in never having ever done a workout before and be able to finish it,” Miller said the next day. “Because sometimes we struggle finishing it Ö and those summer workouts, they’re pretty darn hard; they’re not easy by any means.”

What is easy is sitting over in Ridder Arena and taking in a game, which is what these women want – for people to give them a chance, even if it’s just one.

“My wish is that people would love to watch it as much as I love playing it,” Miller said.

The Gophers take on St. Cloud State at 7:07 p.m. Friday at Ridder Arena.

I will be there, giving them a chance.

– C.J. Spang welcomes comments at [email protected]