Slominski helps to improve Minnesota’s penalty killing

The Gophers have killed off a pair of two-skater disadvantages so far.

Brian Deutsch

Although glory goes to goals and saves, the Minnesota women’s hockey team’s penalty kill lineup deserves as much credit for keeping the score close as anyone else.

This season, the penalty kill unit has killed 28 of 33 penalties for the Gophers, a success rate of nearly 85 percent.

The stellar play, which includes a pair of two-skater disadvantages for over a minute and a half each that were successfully killed, puts Minnesota’s penalty unit third in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association behind only the University’s Duluth campus and North Dakota.

This weekend, Minnesota’s penalty kill unit will be put to the test as it battles Ohio State.

The Buckeyes have the best power play unit in the WCHA, converting 12 of 30 chances.

“Ohio State is something we’re probably going to focus on,” senior forward Becky Wacker said. “If we can be successful there, then we will limit their opportunities.”

One reason for the Gophers’ success when down a skater is first-year assistant coach Laura Slominski.

“Slominski’s been doing a great job,” Wacker said. “We are a month into the season and she already knows how to talk to different players and how to explain things to different people.”

The former Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award winner played for the Gophers from 1998-2002, then began coaching as an assistant at St. Olaf College from 2002-04.

From there, Slominski took over the head coaching duties of the girls’ hockey program at Kennedy High School, where she also taught math, until taking an assistant coaching position at St. Cloud State last season.

“My playing experience here was unbelievable,” she said. “When I left here I knew I kind of wanted to get into coaching. My ultimate goal was to get back here. I don’t think I ever would have imagined it happened as fast as it did.”

Now reunited with head coach Laura Halldorson, Slominski will take over the penalty kill team, coordinate recruiting, coach the forwards on the ice and help run practice.

“I coached at St. Olaf with my old high school coach, so it’s kind of funny now that I’ve coached with both coaches that I used to play for,” Slominski said.

Slominski said Minnesota’s tradition and the fact that she played here makes coaching different than at other schools.

“She does a great job of looking at video and teaching us different ways to kill the penalty,” junior forward Whitney Graft said. “Coach Slominski has brought on a very aggressive penalty kill, something we’ve never done before.”

Slominski’s philosophy is that aggressive play will cause opponents to make mistakes, unlike a passive style where the team is focused on playing defense during disadvantages.

“Last year, there were times when certain teams seemed to dominate us,” Wacker said. “We needed to figure out how to beat them. We were giving up three goals a game. That’s bad and there is no other way to say it.”

The aggressiveness paid off against New Hampshire earlier this year when senior forward Andrea Nichols scored a short-handed goal that kept the Gophers in the game.

“So far, we’ve been nothing but impressed, and I think each week it has gotten better,” Slominski said. “We just need to continue improving so that by the end of the year, we are as strong as we can be.”