U hires first women’s hockey coach

by Kristian Pope

John Mariucci is commonly known as the Godfather of Gophers hockey. To this day, the former player and coach is remembered as the man who made it the dream of every young boy from Minnesota to play for the Gophers.
Today, Mariucci’s legend remains. And Wednesday, the University’s women’s athletics department announced the beginning of an opportunity that had eluded young girls from Minnesota for many years.
Almost a year to the date when Minnesota announced it would be adding women’s hockey as a varsity sport, Twin Cities native Linda Halldorson was named the University’s first-ever women’s hockey coach.
Halldorson, who grew up in Plymouth and attended Wayzata High School, is the department’s 11th varsity coach. The team, still without any signed players, will begin play in the fall of 1997.
For the past seven years, Halldorson has served as the women’s hockey coach at Colby College, a Division III school in Waterville, Maine. She will officially begin her duties at Minnesota on Nov. 4.
Halldorson is no stranger to Minnesota’s tradition with hockey. “Being able to coach my favorite sport in my favorite state is a dream come true,” Halldorson said. “It makes it even more special in coming home to do the thing I love: coach hockey.”
Halldorson, 33, was chosen ahead of finalists Bill Butters and Tom Osiecki. Butters was a Gophers men’s hockey assistant from 1985-`95, and Osiecki is currently the girl’s hockey coach at Burnsville High School.
University women’s athletics director Chris Voelz said that despite the other candidates’ credentials, Halldorson stood out among them, and the other 25 applicants, for several reasons.
“Those are some great, popular people,” Voelz said of Butters and Osiecki. “But Linda adds 21 years of coaching experience. She is experienced at recruiting, and, for a decade, she has been in the homes of hockey people around Minnesota. That’s special to us.”
With recruiting crucial to the success of any new program, Voelz is optimistic that with Halldorson’s experience in Minnesota, the Gopher’s women’s team will be winners in a hurry.
Voelz didn’t waste time in speculating.
“How is next year?” Voelz said. “I think we will be good very quickly.”
Halldorson’s coaching accolades match her enthusiasm for the sport. At Colby, she compiled a 12-9-1 record last season playing against mainly D-I teams.
Last year Halldorson was named the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Women’s Co-Coach of the Year. From 1991-94, she was a chairperson of the ECAC Women’s Hockey Committee and she took part in developing that league.
As a player, Halldorson was a fierce forward for Princeton from 1981-85. She co-captained three Ivy League championship teams and was also named all-conference. Locally, she won three national titles with the Minnesota Checkers, a Twin Cities club team.
After taking part in influencing the growth of East Coast hockey, the tradition and opportunities that Minnesota offered were more than enough to call the native back to her old stomping grounds.
“Growing up in this area, I was a huge fan of the Gophers and (relocated) Minnesota North Stars,” Halldorson said. “I used to listen to (Gophers radio broadcaster) Al Shaver on the radio say, `He shoots, he scores,’ even before I started playing the sport.
“How great it will be to hear, `She shoots, she scores.'”
While Halldorson never met John Mariucci personally, Bob Ritter, the now retired part owner of the North Stars and close friend of Mariucci, said Mariucci would be pleased by the hiring of Halldorson.
“I knew John very well,” Ritter, now 77-years-old, said. “He would be the happiest man here. Now every girl in Minnesota will want to skate and play hockey for the Gophers.”
And then Halldorson echoed the similar sentiment that has been ringing for Minnesota men since Mariucci’s days in the 1950s.
“I would love to have every Minnesota girl dream of being part of Gophers women’s hockey,” Halldorson said. “The men’s team is celebrating 75 years of tradition, and now it’s time for the women to begin theirs.”