|A Salute to the Senior Class of 2008|
Graft, McKenzie, Miller, Philipczyk and Ross Wrap Gopher Careers
If a hockey team were compared to a musical group and a season were one concert, then Senior Day would be the last song of the main set. There may be encores come the playoffs, but that next performance may be in doubt.
As they prepared for the start of their final postseason, I sat down with the five remaining Gophers who know first-hand the thrill of celebrating an NCAA championship.
All of them agree that if they get a chance to celebrate a championship on the ice with their teammates, it would be different than it was when they were freshmen.
“Freshman year, we had this huge talent on the team, four or five players,” Erica McKenzie said. “This year, it would be so much more of a team thing.”
Anya Miller described it this way, “Freshman year we were expected to win all those things. If we hadn’t won, it would have been a huge disappointment, but when you won, it was like you saw it coming. Now, we’ve had to work for every single point that we’ve got this year. Everyone on the team is involved.”
“That was an amazing experience to win it freshmen year for sure, but sometimes to be honest, it felt like we were along for the ride,” Bobbi Ross said. “We all got to contribute in our own little way, but it was pretty obvious that there were certain people carrying the load.”
|Not only has three years changed how they’d feel about their own contribution, but also in how they’d view the championship experience. |
“I think my freshman year I was just following everyone, going through the motions,” Jenelle Philiczyk said. “It was really exciting, but I think if we won it this year, it would really mean a lot, and I’d really understand how big it was.”
“I didn’t grasp what it meant,” Whitney Graft said. “Maybe people carried us and we were like, ‘Cool, we win stuff.’ The national championship was a little bit different, that was something that everyone felt great about, one of the best memories of my life, just an unbelievable feeling of accomplishment. But this year, it’ll mean a ton more.”
Like their feelings about winning a championship, the seniors themselves have evolved over their time at Minnesota. Perhaps nobody has changed more than Graft, who joined the Gophers in the fall of 2004 as a recruited walk-on.
|“I didn’t expect freshman year to really never play and for that to be as hard as it was,” she said. |
“One of my goals was to make it, was to play and stuff. So I guess that was kind of realistic. But obviously, I never would have dreamed to be the captain of a Division-I hockey team, especially the Gophers, that so many kids grow up hoping to be – that I would never have guessed. I guess it has been kind of a long journey.”
“That’s kind of showing the people who never thought I’d make it and never thought I’d play, ‘Ha, ha. Look what I can do, and look how I am helping and impacting this team.’ Not only have I played, but I have contributed in big games, and that’s something that I can be even more happy about.”
|For co-captain Ross, the growth may have occurred earlier during her time at Minnesota. She was installed on the top power play unit with four Team USA stalwarts from her first game, and was a captain by her sophomore year. |
Perhaps the surprising thing in the case of Ross is that she made it to the University in the first place from the tiny community of Verwood, Saskatchewan. Or maybe not, as Verwood, despite having a population numbering in the teens, managed to produce another D-I hockey player in Clarkson freshman Daris Tendler.
“She’s my neighbor – I used to babysit her a long time ago,” Ross said. “Someone used to say that there’s something in our water.”
At that point, Ross paused for her trademark laugh.
“I would say that we’re really not allowed to drink our water, because it’s not properly filtered, so I don’t know if that’s what it is. I think just being a small town in nowhere Saskatchewan in Canada, hockey is going to be big no matter how many people are in the town.”
|One of the drawbacks of being from an isolated town that’s a long way from Minnesota is that her parents have seldom been able to see Ross play as a Gopher. However, they were in attendance to see their daughter honored on Senior Day. |
“It meant an awful lot to me,” Ross said. “After this year, I don’t think they’ll have the opportunity to see me play at all, because I don’t know how much I’ll play. It was really nice that they could be here, especially because it was Senior Day.”
“Probably the only reason why I’m here are the things that they’ve taught me – the most important qualities I could get. I wish they could have come down more, but when they’ve made it, it made up for it.”
|By contrast, staying close to home meant that McKenzie’s parents could make it to their daughter’s games, and Erica even had the opportunity to watch her old high school team on occasion. When Hastings met Eagan in a section final this season, McKenzie’s former Gopher teammate Natalie Darwitz was an assistant coach on the Eagan bench. |
“It was actually kind of fun I thought,” McKenzie said. “It was so ironic – how many years ago she was in the state tournament, and now she’s coaching, helping her dad and Flip’s previous high school team.”
“It was pretty cool, but at the same time I can’t believe I’m a senior. It feels like yesterday that I was wearing a Hastings jersey. It’s really crazy; it just shows how fast time has flown by.”
Might we be seeing McKenzie behind a bench herself someday?
“I never say never; I never know what’s going to happen. As of right now, I’m just seeing where the playing goes. I guess I’ll look to (coaching) in the future.”
|One thing that definitely looks to be on the horizon for a pair of the seniors is a year of training. |
“USA hockey is bringing together players who are out of college to train next year in Blaine at the Super Rink,” Miller said. “So that’s what I’ll be doing along with Erica and other girls who are graduating from colleges around the country – to go there and train from September thru April.”
“We’ll be playing games, and I think we’ll even play the Gophers next year. And then we’ll practice five days a week.”
|Though the question, “What advice would you have for a young girl hoping to play college hockey?” may be a general one for many players, Miller is one of two Gophers with a younger sister currently playing high school hockey. For her, the answer has special meaning. |
“I know that she wants to come here someday,” Miller said. “I definitely encourage her to do that whenever she talks about it, ‘Yeah, that would be awesome.’”
“I’ve loved my experience so much. When she talks about wanting to come here, I say, ‘You should really want to come here, because it is such a great place.’”
|Philipczyk also has a hockey-playing sister. Her advice could apply to playing hockey at any level. |
“Just enjoy it. When it comes to working out and the hard stuff to get to the games, just enjoy it. Once it’s gone, you’re going to realize that you wish you could go in the weight room every day, or you wish you had a reason to go shoot 200 pucks. Enjoy the things that are not as fun.”
Perhaps that strong work ethic has enabled Philipczyk to better survive the grind of college hockey – she’s never missed a game in her Gopher career. In the 9-0 win over North Dakota in the WCHA quarterfinal, she set a Minnesota record by playing in her 153rd game.
“I guess I was lucky, I’ve never been hurt,” she said. “Yes, it means a lot. I guess that I got every moment of playing time out of my four years, which is cool.”
|When the class of 2008 looks back on their accomplishments, what stands out almost as much as the NCAA championship that they won in 2005 is the championship game that they reached on their own campus in 2006. To advance to that game, they had to upset top-seeded New Hampshire in the semifinal. |
“The New Hampshire game was such a big game for that team, that year, because nobody expected us to win,” Ross said. “Getting into the Frozen Four, and then going against the number one team in the country who hadn’t lost in forever.”
“I thought we had a chance even then. That whole season was just about proving to people how much we could do, and that game was just a perfect example of it.”
|The seniors were asked for a few words that best describe each of their classmates. Watching the team prepare for their next game, it was obvious why some of the words were chosen. |
They described Graft as “caring” and “team-first” – even in practice she tends to pass rather than shoot. Words like “funny”, “friendly”, and “always a good time” speak to the fact that Graft is a people person.
The players use phrases such as “very witty”, “smart and sure of herself”, “always has wise things to say”, and “very sarcastic” in reference to their other captain, Ross. Having interviewed her a number of times over the years, I can corroborate all except “sarcastic”, and it that case it wouldn’t surprise me. Whether post game or midweek, after a huge win or a crushing defeat, Ross proceeds carefully, each word having a purpose – just like her actions on the ice.
Philipczyk’s teammates conveyed an image of her using the adjectives “determined”, “intelligent”, “smart”, “studious”, “caring”, and “trustworthy”. In each and every case, the classmate included the adverb “very”. That said more about #16 than anything – whatever she does, she does to the utmost. Anybody who has watched her fore check and back check for four years can relate.
|No term was more popular than “hilarious” when referring to Miller. Watching her joke around in practice it was easy to see. But though she may be pretending to figure skate on one leg, as soon as a new drill began, Miller quickly became all business. “Outgoing”, “kind”, and “loyal” were other labels applied to the defenseman. |
McKenzie is described as “intense”, “competitive”, “determined and self confident”. Imagine her circling the net with the puck and it’s easy to see the origin of these opinions. But the words “funny” and “laughter” also serve as apt illustrations.
All five seniors are hard workers who are driven to make their team successful. Their team has taken on that personality. But the five have fun and enjoy spending time with each other, and that has spread throughout the team as well.
|Soon however, their days of being as close as a family will come to an end. How do they feel about the end of that chapter of their lives? |
“I think we’re really going to miss the people that we get to see every day – the teammates, the staff,” McKenzie said. “Having Ridder Arena as our rink, coming here every day is awesome. It’s also time to move on and see what else is out there; nothing lasts forever.”
“It’s a thrill putting that ‘M’ on your chest, pulling that sweater over your back. Obviously, that’s the most fun thing, going out there whenever we can to play with that Minnesota jersey. But at the same time, you’re going to miss the people.”
Graft said, “It would be a whole different experience if we didn’t have the teammates and the girls on the team that we have. They make the Gopher program what it is. Everyone is so fun to be around, everyone works so hard, and just has a great time.”
As rewarding an experience as college and college hockey is, its purpose is to prepare student athletes for that which comes next.
“I’m really going to be bummed out, and I’m really going to miss it, but at the same point, I’m really ready to start something else and focus my energy and my concentration on work and school,” Philipczyk said.
“There’s so many things that you’re going to miss about it, but sometimes I’m ready for a change,” Miller said. “I’m going to miss my team, I’m going to miss my coaches, and I’m going to miss game days – everything that’s involved in University of Minnesota women’s hockey.”
But maybe there is still time to create another memory or two before the run of Miller and the other seniors ends.
“It would be so special my senior year – you couldn’t ask for a better way to go out than winning championships.”
|Meet The Frosh|
Hailing from North Vancouver, British Columbia, nobody had a longer journey to the University of Minnesota than goaltender Jenny Lura. However, that didn’t dim her enthusiasm for selecting the maroon and gold, as Lura wanted to be a Gopher even before Minnesota knew that they needed her.
“My recruitment was really different,” Lura said. “I had been emailing Minnesota, because they were my top school. They came back to me and said that I couldn’t come here because they had three goalies.”
As fate would have it, goalie Brittony Chartier left the team for personal reasons right around the time Lura’s BC Breakers team arrived in the Twin Cities for a series versus the Minnesota Whitecaps.
“It was just my luck that I came down here, they saw me play, and I played well,” she said.
The timing proved fortuitous for Minnesota as well, but not for Northeastern and Wisconsin, Lura’s other two schools under consideration.
After splitting her first two starts in a Gopher uniform and sitting out the series in Ohio due to a knee injury, Lura had a huge weekend against then top-ranked Minnesota-Duluth. She earned a pair of wins, holding the high-powered Bulldog to a single goal in each game.
The victories were all the more sweet for Lura, because her parents made the trip from BC to watch the team play that weekend.
“I knew that it was a big game, and having my parents come down, and also my goalie instructor came to watch me, so I knew I had to play good,” she said. “And then having back-to-back starts adds a little bit more.”
The following week she proved that her performance was not a fluke, knocking off another #1-ranked team as Minnesota broke a nine-game winless streak against the Badgers.
As successful as she has been during her short career, hockey is just one reason why she came to the University.
“I’m going to major in psychology, but I’m hoping to get into nursing. Maybe after my four years, because the two programs along with hockey is almost impossible.”
Lura has adjusted well to her new world beyond the hockey rink and classroom.
“Vancouver’s pretty much the same size as Minneapolis,” she said. “I love it here.”
The Gophers have won many a recruiting battle over the years where they appeared to have the inside track because the player grew up within an hour drive of the Minnesota campus. On occasion, it is nice to add a player like forward Jen Schoullis from Girard, Pennsylvania, who chose the Gophs over Wisconsin and Mercyhurst College of nearby Erie, PA.
Schoullis admits that there was some temptation to play at home in front of family and friends.
“Mercyhurst is a great school, and I got to know their coaching staff,” she said. “It’s actually only about a half hour away from my house. Going to Shattuck [St. Marys in Faribault, MN], I felt like I’d already moved away from home, so [attending Mercyhurst] almost felt like a step backwards. And I really love Minnesota.”
“Obviously, the school is just amazing. Ridder is a great place to play – the best rink in the whole country.”
Despite the miles, her parents still manage to catch their daughter in action.
“My dad comes out quite a bit – he came out to Shattuck a lot. My dad will see me play 10 to 15 games this year. My mom came to Ohio State.”
Through the season’s early weeks, Schoullis has been skating on a line with two seniors who rank one and two in career scoring on the current roster.
Schoullis said, “Erica McKenzie is a gifted forward, and she scores pretty much if she puts her mind to it – which she does. Bobbi Ross is a great center, she’s supporting us all of the time. We’re working hard, creating opportunities, and trying to bury our chances when we get them.”
That senior experience helps when a player is experiencing the competitive rivalries of the WCHA for the first time.
“The girls gave me a heads up to how it would be playing Duluth,” Schoullis said. “I didn’t really understand that until Friday came around. Playing at home here against Duluth is one of the greatest experiences that all of the girls have had. It’s so intense.”
This week, Minnesota announced the signing of an elite class of recruits, where all six players have experience of playing with a US national team at some level. Schoullis had to smile when asked to look ahead to what the future may hold.
“I’m familiar with playing with Sarah Erickson [at camps], and both of [twin sisters Jocelyn and Monique] Lamoureux – I went to school with them for three years. The seniors are a huge part of our team this year, but next year, we’ll have to try to work that out with the freshmen coming in. I think we’ll be fine.”
For any college freshman, part of the planning for the future includes an area of study.
“I haven’t declared a major yet,” Schoullis said. “I’ll probably end up going the business way. I’m thinking about law a little bit, but we’ll see where that takes me. It’s a lot of school, and a lot of work, so we’ll see.”
Forward Emily West comes to Minnesota from Colorado Springs, where she played with the Colorado Selects club team, plus the Pine Creek high school boys’ team.
“Colorado hockey – we struggle in numbers,” West said. “Playing boys was a way to get a lot more ice time and get exposure to different levels of the game.”
When it came time to choose a college, she selected Minnesota.
“They’re known for their program, the hockey as well as academics. I came on one of my visits here, and the overall feeling I got from the staff was great and helped make that decision.”
She’s enjoyed her early taste of the college game.
“Coming here, definitely very competitive, definitely a rich level of play.”
“It’s just a lot more competitive and at a higher intensity level all the time. It’s a good adjustment – I like it.”
So far, she’s played on junior Gigi Marvin’s line with sophomore Kelli Blankenship.
“It’s awesome,” West said. “They can always put the puck on your stick and they’re easy to play with. There’s not a lot of struggle; they make you look good.”
West is open to a challenge in the classroom, as well as in the country’s hockey arenas.
“I’m not sure right now, but I’m thinking of majoring in chemistry, or possibly another science,” she said. “So we’ll see where that takes me.”
But first, we get to enjoy watching the speedy wing display her many talents on the ice for the next four years. How would West like to be known by the fans at the conclusion of her Gopher career?
“A player who loves to play the game and did a good job at it.”
|Laura May |
For forward Laura May from Dellwood, MN and Mahtomedi High School, the Gophers represent opportunity, but also sacrifice.
“I definitely had offers from other schools that told me straight up that I would have more playing time,” she said.
Minnesota, which typically plays a rotation where nine skaters see the lions share of the shifts at forward, could not promise her a spot on one of those top three lines.
Her final choices included St. Cloud, Duluth, Mankato, and Ohio State – but May chose Minnesota. Although she wants to play hockey, she picked the U for reasons that went beyond ice time.
“I’ve always wanted to be a Gopher,” she said.
For a player accustomed to being the best player on her high school team, sporadic playing time has forced an adjustment.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” May said. “You want to get into the flow right away. And also, you don’t want to let your coach down, who put you out there.”
“When one of the other lines needs a rest, then the fourth line gets out there. It’s a little harder, because we just want to get out there and play a little more. But we know that they’re doing the job right, so it’s hard to complain about it.”
May values her opportunities on one of the other lines due to injury or illness of a teammate, such as those she experienced in Madison or Duluth.
“It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it.”
One can expect her role to expand in future seasons, starting next year with the departure of four senior forwards. May plans to tap into the experience of the seniors as much as she can.
“You just watch them go out and play every night and every day in practice, and you learn from it. You just watch them, how they work with each other, and the effort that they put into their work, and the freshmen and sophomores are going to learn a lot.”
Even with those role models, the transition isn’t always easy.
“The biggest adjustment has been the time that you put into training – that’s a difference maker,” May said. “When you add that to the homework that you get, there isn’t a lot of time available, so you have to make it count.”
“I’m not sure yet what I’m going to major in, but I definitely want to get a good education. That’s part of the reason why I came here – there’s so many options.”
|Terra Rasmussen |
Sometimes in life, a certain path just feels right. For Coon Rapids’ forward Terra Rasmussen, that path led to the Twin Cities campus.
“When I pictured where I would be, it was here,” she said. “And I’ve always wanted to be a Gopher, so that was the deciding factor.”
Her final choices came down to Minnesota and Boston University, two teams that met during the season’s opening weekend, with the Maroon and Gold coming from behind in the third period for a 4-2 victory.
“It was different, seeing their coaches and the players,” Rasmussen said of the team that she’d gotten to know during the recruiting process.
“But I was glad I wasn’t on their team.”
Like May, Rasmussen is trying to adjust to getting only a fraction of the playing time that she enjoyed on her high school team. When she does get on the ice in a game, her approach is to keep it simple.
“When I go out there, I just try and work my hardest,” she said.
Rasmussen said it helped them when Jaimie Horton’s fractured leg healed and she was able to return to action, giving the team enough players for four full lines.
“[While Horton was injured], when May and I practiced, because we didn’t have a 3rd, it made it more difficult. It’s so much better having a third player on our line, and I feel we’ve gotten a lot more playing time.”
Though her playing time in games may be limited at present, Rasmussen tries to contribute in other ways.
“I try not to be quiet. I just try to stay positive about everything – that’s kind of my mentality.”
Rasmussen plans to major in business management, although she hasn’t decided on a specific career path. Hopefully over the next four years, that ideal path, like the one for her education, will reveal itself to her.
|Savannah Osborn |
Goaltender Savannah Osborn joined the Gopher team as the 2008 portion of the schedule got underway. But her time at the U began in the fall with the rest of her class.
“I was all ready to sign with Bemidji State University, and play hockey there,” Osborn said. “The University of Minnesota gave me an invitation for an academic scholarship. I thought that would be really nice, so I decided to go there.”
And for the first semester, her experience was that of a student, not a student athlete.
“I talked to Coach Laura [Halldorson], and she told me that if they needed another goalie, she’d let me know,” Osborn said.
“When the third string goalie decided not to play anymore, Coach Frost called me.”
Osborn, facing the prospect of a winter without hockey for the first time in many years, was glad to have the opportunity to become a Gopher.
“I was going to school, but it just didn’t feel right not playing hockey.”
Although she has not seen any game action and there is no guarantee that she will play this season, she views being a part of this team as a positive.
“It’s a great community; I love all the girls,” Osborn said.
Joining the Gophers has meant putting another activity on hold.
“I’m an amateur boxer; I’m a two-year Golden Gloves champion. Last summer, I fought in the nationals and we took second.”
Boxing is a passion that she shares with junior Dagney Willey.
“We just found out we’re in two different clubs that don’t like each other very much,” Osborn said. “We’re planning on working out together.”
Like many freshman, she isn’t sure exactly what degree she would like to earn at Minnesota.
“I haven’t declared my major yet. I’m pre-dentistry, so something in the sciences.”
However, there is one thing that Osborn knows that she wants her future to include.
“I don’t know if I could go a whole winter without playing hockey – I love it.”
| A Ribbon For Hope|
Rachael Drazan Makes Unusual Addition to Her Uniform
Anybody who has watched the Gophers is accustomed to seeing ponytails extending beneath the players’ helmets. Junior defenseman Rachael Drazan has taken the look a step further this season, wearing a bow from a gold ribbon for each game.
Hope Kids Organization
“The referees ask me, ‘Are you serious – are you trying to be more of a girl?’” Drazan said.
“My teammates, the first day were all like, ‘What are you doing?’”
Her teammates warmed up to the idea when Rachael explained the reason.
“We have family friends who have a little girl who’s three years old who has eye cancer,” she said. “I met her this summer, but our families have been best friends forever. My grandparents are friends with her grandparents.”
“So I started wearing a ribbon for her, to make more people aware of children’s cancer.”
To date, the ribbon has succeeded in doing just that according to Drazan.
“The first team that we played said, ‘You have a ribbon in your hair,’ and they were making fun of it, and we started talking about it.”
“Every game, someone’s asked me about it. It’s good for awareness that people are questioning it, but at the same time, it’s really awkward.”
Ribbons may not be a natural part of hockey, but then it doesn’t seem right that cancer should be part of the life of a young child either.
“She’s only three, so a lot of the time, she just stares,” Drazan said. “When she does talk about it, she grabs my hair and says, ‘Where’s my bow?’ She understands that it is for her. It is more meaningful to her parents and to our family than it is to her, because she doesn’t quite understand it.”
“She understands that she has cancer. She has no vision in one eye, and they are trying to save her vision in the other eye. She’s in remission right now.”
Through the University of Minnesota, Drazan has become involved with Hope Kids, an organization that provides ongoing events and activities and a support community for children with cancer and other life-threatening medical conditions.
“Make-A-Wish is a one-time thing – it’s a wish,” Drazan said. “Hope Kids is more like keeping the dream alive and helping you go through those times. Hope Kids does a lot more with the family. They involve the parents, and they do things for the parents. They take the kids for a little bit to make it easier on the parents and provide support wherever they can. A lot of the kids make friends with other kids, and parents make friends with other parents. It’s a really great atmosphere. When they do things in the community, people know about them, and they love to help them out.”
Her young friend has served as an ongoing source of inspiration for the Gopher.
“When she comes to our games, she sits down by the boards by our bench,” Drazan said. “She puts her hand on the boards, and that’s really cute.”
“Remembering that she goes through struggles -- sometimes when I have aches and pains, I think about her, and I don’t really think about (my pain) anymore.”
Click the following link if you would like more information about the Hope Kids organization.
|Thanks for Everything, Coach|
An Interview with Laura Halldorson
As she prepares for her first season of watching Gopher hockey from the stands, former coach Laura Halldorson was kind enough to answer a few questions from the Power Play Club.
PPC: The first question on some readers’ minds is does this change in your life mean Ridder will be coming home or staying at Grandma’s?
Halldorson: After I made my decision, I took two weeks off, and I spent four days with my Grandma near Aitkin. She asked me if I wanted Ridder back, and I said, “No I’m not taking Ridder away from you.” They’re best friends, so I think it’s the right decision.
PPC: How did the experience of coaching Minnesota compare with your expectations when you accepted the job?
Halldorson: I’m not somebody who plans too far out in advance, I try to focus on what I’m doing at the time. I think what we’ve created here, the history and the traditions that we’ve established, those are things that I’m very proud of.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that it was going to be something special at the University of Minnesota, and that’s why I left Colby College. I can walk away feeling very good about where the program is at, and I know that it will continue to be successful in the future.
PPC: How do you feel your coaching changed over time?
Halldorson: I think that there’s a huge difference in coaching Division III and my Colby experience, and then comparing it to my Minnesota experience. When I got the job here, I told people that it was the opposite of Colby. Anything that you look at – the size of the school, the size of the community, the fact that they had scholarships, that there was media exposure, that there were people paying attention, and we’re expected to win – all of those things are so different coming here.
All of that took some getting used to, and I think I learned a lot over my eleven years here. One of the biggest things was that I had to delegate. All of things that come with being at the University of Minnesota outside of coaching made me realize that I couldn’t do everything like I did at Colby, where it was at such a smaller scale with so little support in terms of staff and resources. I went from a situation where I had one assistant, who was part time and showed up during hockey season, to having this great staff of several people. That quite dramatically changed what my day looked like and what my responsibilities were.
PPC: Your time at Minnesota has yielded a ton of memories. Are there 2 or 3 frozen moments that stand out so clearly that you know you’ll never forget them?
Halldorson: There are many; it’s hard, because I don’t like to pick out certain things and forget others, and I don’t want to slight any of the former teams and players. Certainly, the inaugural season was huge, and that first game was tremendous – to have 6,800 people watching a women’s hockey game was historic, and I was proud to be a part of that.
Our first national championship was definitely a special memory. There were different parts of that journey that were incredibly memorable. That semifinal game against UMD is my favorite game of all time. Just because of the whole situation and the fact that they had beaten us in the WCHA championship game and we didn’t know if we were going to be in the national tournament. Then to come from behind in dramatic fashion, that was really an emotional game. Even within that game I have memories. I can still remember the eyes of my players during the time out with about 3 ½ minutes left, and just telling them to stay calm. That was a special moment, a special game, and a special championship.
Obviously, the NCAA back-to-back championships were awesome, and I think the team in 2005 will go down as one of the best teams ever in our sport. It was really a privilege and an honor to coach that team, and to be a part of witnessing the greatness that we put on the ice that year.
And I think that the UNH win in 2006 was a great one. In terms of my favorite games, that might be my second one – just because of the circumstance and the way we won the game and being the underdog.
Those are my on-ice memories. I have a lot of off-ice memories of the kids, the players, the funny things that happened, that are definitely too numerous to list.
PPC: I’m not going to ask if you have any regrets, but if you were granted one mulligan or “do over” for the past ten years, what would you change?
Halldorson: I tend to look forward rather than look back. As far as things that I should have done different, I don’t like to have regrets.
PPC: As we count down the days until the puck drops on the Gopher season, how does it feel for the first time in a long while to not have that responsibility of getting a hockey team ready for an opener?
Halldorson: It feels very weird. I did the math, and it’s been 20 years working with a college hockey team. For the past 20 years, my routine has been very much the same – the cycle of the seasons and preparing for each upcoming year. It’s just what I know. For the first time in a very long time, I’m not doing that. Getting used to watching a team play while I’m not the coach will be a transition and an adjustment for me. At the same time, what I’m really enjoying right now is that my pace of life has slowed down. I’ve been much more intentional with the use of my time, because that’s such a big part of why I chose not to coach – there are other things that I want to do with my time. I just felt like I was dedicating an incredible amount of time to my job, which was all very much worth it and necessary, but after 20 years, I just feel like it’s time to do something else. And someone else can come in and dedicate that time to this program.
PPC: You’ve said that one item on which you continue to work at the U is the preparation for the 10th Anniversary of GWH Celebration. What can you tell fans about that weekend?
Halldorson: It’s going to be awesome. I just saw a preview of one of the segments that is going to be on the video, and it’s cool. We’re making a video that we’ll show at the dinner – inteview some people, show some clips, just kind of a documentary about the program. We’re going to try to bring back as many alums as we can. They’ll be playing in an alumni game. For the first time, they’ll be playing against each other and not mixed in with the current team.
At noon on October 27th there will be this alumni game. People will need a ticket for the 3:00 game against Duluth in order to get there, because they’re not going to clear the building. Then an exciting game against the Bulldogs, followed by the dinner at the Radison. I think it is going to be a fun night looking back, and just really appreciating what we’ve got here in Gopher Women’s Hockey. The successes – both on and off the ice over the years – and then looking forward to another great decade ahead of us.
It is going to be a special night, and I really hope that a lot of people come. I have a feeling that we’re going to sell out, because the venue that we’re going to only holds about 200 people. Once we get these invitations out in the next couple of weeks, people should sign up as soon as they can.
PPC: Although it’s hard to predict in life what doors will open or close, in your dream scenario, what would you like to be doing in 5 or 10 years career wise?
Halldorson: That is the 64,000 question, because I don’t know the answer, and I’m okay with that. I’m not worried about what I’ll be doing in the future; I’m curious. Obviously, I have to start thinking about that, but I’m fortunate that I have some time. Joel Maturi has said that there may be something for me to continue on in the athletic department beyond this year. We don’t know that; I’m not going to count on that. Part of me thinks I really do want to do something different. I don’t want it to be just any job. I want it to be something that builds on what I’ve done so far with my career, and make sure that there is meaning and purpose with that. I don’t know what that looks like.
As of now, I want to stay in Minnesota. I love where I live, and my relatives are here. I’ll try to continue to figure out what that next chapter of life will be.
PPC: Beyond work and family, what is something that you are looking forward to doing that coaching has precluded in the past?
Halldorson: Catching up with friends, reconnecting with people is huge. Also somewhat humorous, I joined Lifetime Fitness. I’m so bad about exercising, because my extra time I used to rest. Now I don’t have that as an excuse, so I’m going to try to work out on a regular basis and we’ll see how that goes. I’d boss other people around and tell them to get in shape, but I was not a good example.
The other thing is just having weekends, to do different things, different interests and hobbies. My faith is important to me, and to be able to go to church on a regular basis is something that I haven’t been able to do. I’m looking forward to things outside of hockey that were difficult for me to make time for in the past.
PPC: Any final message for our readers?
Halldorson: I just want to say thank you. I want all of our fans and especially our booster club to know how appreciative I am of their support and the time, energy and resources that they put into our program. I don’t think they get recognized enough. It is just so special when we have receptions or different events with booster club members to see the enthusiasm and support of these people who are not related to anybody on the team, yet they continue to come out and encourage the players and the staff. It really is appreciated, whether we say that enough or not. I’m going to miss interacting with them as a coach, but I’m looking forward to having more time to talk to people at games and at functions, because I won’t be as busy and it will be a different role. I think it’s going to be fun.