‘Grandma’ Hegland ends U hockey career

Jim Schortemeyer

Amber Hegland has played her last game for the Minnesota women’s hockey team, and it was a bittersweet end for the lone Gophers senior.
But while she’s happy with her time on the team, Hegland won’t miss seeing her name in the paper.
“I’ve never been one for the limelight,” Hegland said. “It’s just an inspirational story to some of these kids, my teammates.”
“Grandma” — the nickname given to Hegland by sophomore Nadine Muzerall — was a four-year player for the softball team before switching to hockey. Muzerall says Hegland’s locker room presence might have been more important than her statistics.
“She’s like the word of wisdom on the team,” Muzerall said. “We call her `Grandma’ for a reason. She always knows just what to say and how to say it to get us going.”
Not that her numbers were bad — Hegland finished her Minnesota career with 35 points and a batting average over .400.
Still, Muzerall admits she was skeptical when she heard Hegland was joining the team.
“I’m from Canada and I didn’t know too much about her, because I hadn’t played against her, so I was like, ‘Wow, what a transition,'” Muzerall said. “Softball, no offense, is more relaxed. But she kept up with us in the workouts and conditioning.”

Looking ahead
With Hegland’s leadership gone, next year’s team will be composed mainly of juniors. There’s no question the Gophers are a young team, but what are their chances of improving next year?
Minnesota isn’t guaranteed anything because of its youth; it’s not like the Gophers were the only young team in the American Women’s College Hockey Alliance final four. Brown and New Hampshire will lose just a few seniors from their squads.
The watch is already on for who will be next year’s number one team. AWCHA champion Harvard will lose seven seniors, but retain three members of the gold medal-winning 1996 Olympic team.
Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson has said the key to improvement lies in more games against good teams.
“This team learns as it goes,” Halldorson said. “They figure out a way to win.”
Hegland says the team has come a long way in her short tenure.
“They’ve grown up a lot and they have a different approach to the game,” Hegland said. “They believe in one another.”
With just one senior on this year’s team and one next year, things would seem to be looking up for Minnesota. But there are a couple of hitches. Minnesota has still never beaten New Hampshire or Harvard.
The Gophers will also be dealing with a new athletic conference. An independent this year, Minnesota will probably join Wisconsin, Minnesota State-Mankato and four other schools in the formation of the new conference. The switch may mean fewer games against top-notch teams for the Gophers.
And while Halldorson hails the new conference as a boost to the program — because she expects good competition — the team could be in for some trouble with the Badgers.
Wisconsin is a start-up program, and the Gophers haven’t had a serious recruiting threat within 1,000 miles of the Twin Cities.
But Minnesota is a good bet to remain a powerhouse. The Gophers’ had eight players with more than 30 points, and the defense has been solid, too, allowing more than three goals just twice this season.