Halldorson: Now is not the time to start resting

by Ryan Schuster

Cardboard boxes and loose stacks of paper decorate new Gophers women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson’s office at the Bierman Athletic Complex. A signed picture of Hall-of-Fame hockey player Darryl Sittler, along with pictures of her family and a photo from the article Sports Illustrated did on her while she was at Colby College, adorn the bulletin board behind her cluttered desk.
“I’m settled in,” Halldorson said. “I have a lot going on so there’s always stuff around, but things are coming together. I was glad when I got the furniture.”
It has been more than seven months since Halldorson was named Minnesota’s first varsity women’s hockey coach on Oct. 23. While the new coach is focused on building the program from the ground up, she still has plenty of work left before the Gophers play their inaugural game Nov. 2 against Augsburg College.
“Everyone asks me, ‘isn’t it exciting?'” Halldorson said, cracking a smile and adjusting her glasses. “‘It will be so exciting.’ That word comes up a lot. I really think it will be, but I’m the one that is trying to get everything done before we drop the puck Nov. 2. I don’t want to get caught up too much in the hoopla when there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Minnesota is in the process of finalizing its schedule, getting uniforms, pads and equipment and ordering video gear.
The new team doesn’t even have its own building to play in yet. The Gophers will share Mariucci Arena with the men’s team during their first two seasons until they are able to move into their new home. An intimate 3,000-seat women’s hockey arena is in the planning stages and will be built on what are now the tennis courts adjacent to Mariucci.
“It’s just a real different experience starting from scratch,” Halldorson said. “At Colby I tried to make their existing program better. At Minnesota I have to start a new program.”
Halldorson coached at Colby, a small college in Waterville, Maine, for the last seven years before taking the job at Minnesota. Colby has an established women’s hockey program that has been around for 25 years.
The Gophers will begin play next year as an independent, since no other Big Ten or WCHA schools have varsity teams yet. Minnesota has already scheduled more than 20 games against local varsity and club teams and varsity teams in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference. The Gophers will play their first game against Augsburg College, the first university in the state to add women’s hockey as a varsity sport.
Halldorson has already received commitments from 16 players for next season. Minnesota’s first recruiting class includes three of the five Ms. Hockey finalists in the state a year ago. Halldorson believes that the players she has already assembled will give the Gophers more depth next year than she had in seven seasons at Colby.
Halldorson doesn’t expect to do any more recruiting before the team starts practice in the fall. She plans to have a roster of 23 to 25 players next season following the team’s open tryout.
“I think it’s a really good start to a first-year program,” women’s athletics director Chris Voelz said, “and one that will really put some foundation towards what we want to be — one of the best programs in the nation.”
Halldorson has given each of her recruits and expected walk-ons a questionnaire asking them their opinions on the importance of athletics, academics and being a role model to prepare them for the team’s inaugural season.
“They will be looked up to by a lot of people around here,” Halldorson said. “There will be quite a bit of attention focused on the program, especially next year.”
The Gophers should attract quite a buzz next fall when they become the first Division I varsity women’s hockey team in the state.
“The whole state is going to know about women’s hockey,” senior transfer Julie Otto said. “When I played at Northeastern, not a lot of people knew about women’s hockey. This is a big deal because Minnesota getting a Division I team will say a lot for women’s hockey.”
With the building blocks that Halldorson has put in place to assist the team and the promising class of incoming players Minnesota will have to work with, the possibilities for the Gophers women’s hockey program appear to be endless.
“The potential is huge,” Halldorson said. “When I tell coaches out East about the kind of stuff that we’re doing here with the promotion of the program, the season tickets and this new facility we’re talking about building, they are amazed. We have the opportunity to do things in this sport that haven’t been done yet.”