Hockey takes national crown

Monica Wright

It’s strange how much can change in a few weeks time: Coach Laura Halldorson and her players can laugh now they hold the American Women’s College Hockey Alliance title.
Winning the national title was quite a turnaround from the state of Minnesota hockey three weeks earlier. Back then, Minnesota-Duluth won the WCHA tournament and the automatic bid to the national championship, while the second-place Gophers were forced to wait for an at-large bid.
Ironically, the Gophers faced the Bulldogs in the semifinals of the AWCHAtourney, a rematch of the WCHA tournament final and their sixth faceoff this season.
Despite their unstable 1-3-1 record against Duluth, senior Shannon Kennedy felt the team was prepared for a fight.
“We knew coming into the tournament that our main goal was to make the championship game,” Kennedy said. “In the past we only made it to the third or fourth (place) game.”
The animosity between the league rivals was apparent as junior Nadine Muzerall, the nation’s leading scorer, brought the Gophers back from a two-goal deficit between penalties when she scored in both the second and third periods of the game, tying the score at 2-2.
“There was a lot of hard hitting, more so because of the rivalry,” Kennedy said.
Duluth’s downfall came at the hands of its hostility. In the third period, they wracked up four penalties, giving junior Tracy Engstrom the chance to score a power-play goal in the last minutes of the third period.
“Everybody said it was a great game — the refs, everybody. I heard it a lot,” Kennedy said.”I think it was one of the best games of the tournament. It was fast-paced and came down to who executed, who came out and played the best.”
After coming from behind to defeat their biggest rival, the Gophers were ready to take on top-seeded Brown, which earlier that day trounced Dartmouth 4-2. But they had to get past goalie and notorious brick wall Ali Brewer first.
Brewer, who had 11 shutouts this season, allowed only four goals in a game once this year — in the season-opening 4-0 loss to the Gophers. She was also the 2000 recipient of the prestigious Patty Kazmaier award for top female hockey player.
Brewer lived up to her reputation as the first-place Bears, like Duluth, shutout the Gophers in the first period of the game while Kim Insalaco slid one past Killewald, putting the Gophers down 1-0 once again.
The second period saw a turnaround in the form of junior Courtney Kennedy and sophomore Laura Slominski, who each crashed the net with goals that put the Gophers ahead permanently.
Brown’s Kristy Zamora made a comeback attempt with a goal in the third period, but it proved fruitless against Muzerall and junior Winny Brodt, who each scored within less than a minute apart to propel Minnesota to a 4-2 win.
With two underdog victories in two days, the Gophers dominated the all-tournament team list: Muzerall, Brodt and Courtney Kennedy were honored along with MVP Killewald.
For lone senior Shannon Kennedy, the national title is bigger than just the 20 championship players.
“It’s just great for the little girls. I’d love to be in their shoes because the teams are going to be so good when they get older,” Kennedy said.
“The sport is growing so fast. It’s getting more popular, and it’s great for the Midwest.”

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