Line juggling works for women’s hockey

Aaron Blake

Toward the end of Tuesday’s practice at Mariucci Arena, the nation’s No. 1 women’s hockey team was putting on a pairs figure skating competition.

After the team of Minnesota freshman goaltenders Jody Horak and Brenda Reinen were announced as the winners, the remaining competitors showered them with gloves as they took a victory lap.

“We did other things that were hockey-related earlier,” Gophers coach Laura Halldorson said laughing. “We were just trying to have fun today.

“I don’t know how much structure we want to have this week. We just want to keep (the players) in shape this week and also have fun and keep them fresh.”

Following Sunday’s come-from-behind 3-2 win in overtime versus Wisconsin and an NCAA-high 32 games played this season, it’s hard to blame Halldorson for giving her team a break. With no games this weekend, Minnesota will practice only three times with an optional fourth on Friday.

The team might have saved itself from a tougher week of practice with Sunday’s win. After losing 2-0 on Saturday and heading into the third period trailing 1-0, Halldorson decided a change was needed.

Switching around the offensive lines produced immediate results with the Gophers scoring two goals in the third period, the game-winner in the extra period, and clinching at least a tie for the WCHA regular season title.

“Coach changes the lines so much that you’ve played with so many different people and it’s not that big of a deal (when she does),” senior captain Laura Slominski said. “It just worked out well the way it happened on Sunday.”

The new lines moved Sarma Pone from the third to the first line while Kelly Stephens and Jerilyn Glenn each moved down a line.

The majority of the third and extra periods were played with Pone’s and Stephens’ lines, while Noelle Sutton substituted in occasionally for the banged up La Toya Clarke.

Pone came to the bench during a shift on Sunday and expressed her enjoyment to be on the same line as Slominski and Tracy Engstrom.

A junior eligibility-wise, Pone joined the team at the same time as senior captains Slominski and Engstrom but didn’t play a season ago.

“Before we went out, we talked to each other about how we are the three seniors and the team’s counting on us,” Pone said. “It’s the most fun I’ve had playing on a line this year.”

The newly constructed first line scored Minnesota’s second goal, sending the game into overtime and making for a dramatic finish when newly-joined linemates Stephens and Kristy Oonincx hooked up on the final play.

But Pone can’t count on those same lines in two weeks against St. Cloud State.

“From Sunday I thought (the new lines) were pretty effective,” Halldorson said. “But we’ve also been very successful with the other combinations for a long time.

“So it’s something we have a long time to think about and I’m not sure what we’ll do yet.”

Olympic update

Future-Gopher Krissy Wendell has one goal and five assists in four games for the U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team. Teammate Courtney Kennedy, who was the WCHA defensive player of the year for the Gophers a season ago, has two assists.

The women are now 4-0 in the Olympics and play for the gold medal on Wednesday. Halldorson will be travelling to Salt Lake City for the game.

Recruits win awards

Minnesota women’s hockey recruits Ashley Albrecht of South St. Paul and Chelsey Brodt of Roseville were named to the Star Trbinue Minnesota girls’ hockey All-Metro first team.

In addition, Albrecht was named metro player of the year, scoring 22 goals and 38 assists from the defender position. Brodt is the sister of Winny Brodt, who will return to the Gophers next season following a year’s absence.


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