This Week in the WCHA Women’s League: Oct. 17, 2002

Women’s college hockey — in particular, women’s hockey at the University of Minnesota — takes another step forward this weekend when the Gophers open Ridder Arena, the first hockey arena in the United States dedicated to a women’s program.

The impetus for the arena came with a lead gift of $500,000 from the late Bob Ridder and his wife Kathleen. Longtime supporters of women’s athletics at Minnesota, the Ridders have long been supporters and benefactors of both men’s and women’s hockey. Bob shared the Lester Patrick Award with Wayne Gretzky in 1994 for outstanding service to hockey in the United State. The manager of the 1952 and 1956 U.S. Olympic hockey teams, he was part of the ownership group which founded the Minnesota North Stars. Ridder was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976 and the International Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998.

Kathleen served on the advisory board for women’s athletics while Minnesota had separate athletic departments for men and women, and served a stint as the chair of the committee.

The Gophers have worn an “R” patch on the shoulders of their jerseys to honor the Ridders since Bob passed away in July of 2000.

Ridder Arena is part of a state-of-the-art facility, which also houses the Gophers’ men’s and women’s tennis programs with 10 indoor and 12 outdoor courts. Also included is a strength and conditioning area of more than 4,000 square feet. In all, the entire facility encompasses 165,762 ground square feet. The hockey arena occupies 57,618 square feet and features 3,000 seats in a bowl configuration, and nine suites and a club room with a combined 326 seats.

The facility also has 11 team locker rooms, coaches and officials locker rooms, player lounges for both hockey and tennis teams, and fully-equipped training and equipment rooms.

The team took to the ice for the first time Tuesday and excitement abounded. “This place is money,” sophomore forward Kelly Stephens said as she stepped through the gate.

Many of those players, however, don’t have the perspective of head coach Laura Halldorson, who played in the early 1980s at Princeton. She knows from first-hand experience how far women’s hockey has come and appreciates where the game now stands.

“When I step back and think about what just happened, with Ridder Arena being built, it really is hard to believe,” she said. “I never imagined that 20 years ago.”

Although the new arena and its amenities will give the Gophers an edge in recruiting, Halldorson hopes other schools will follow suit.

“Hopefully, this means we’re leaders,” she said. “Hopefully, we won’t be the last school to do something like this. Obviously, it’s a huge undertaking, financially and otherwise, so I know it’s not going to be easy for other schools to duplicate.

“We’re just very fortunate that we had the chance to do this with the help of the Ridder family and a lot of other people.”

Senior defenseman Winny Brodt, who graduated from Roseville High School in 1996 when there were no varsity women’s hockey programs in the state, originally attended New Hampshire, where she helped lead the Wildcats to the first American Women’s College Hockey Alliance national title.

Brodt, recognized by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as one of Minnesota’s 100 most important sports figures of the 20th century for her influence on girls’ hockey, sees the new arena as a watermark for the sport.

“When I grew up playing hockey, I played with the guys,” she said. “I didn’t even fathom that I would be playing women’s college hockey. To have this rink built just for our program is unbelievable.

“I think this is just going to throw the numbers through the roof,” she said of the effect Ridder Arena will have on girls playing the sport. “The girls are going to see this and they’re going to want to be like Natalie Darwitz, Krissy Wendell and Ronda Curtin.”

Despite all of its amenities, one problem Ridder Arena has is press accommodations. The press box is still under development, as architects failed to design the front row of the area with enough space for working media to sit.

Although it seems to be a problem that no one wants to talk about, the problem is not unique for hockey arenas. Both the Midwest Wireless Civic Center, in Mankato, and the National Hockey Center, in St. Cloud, were built without press boxes and had to have press areas retro-fitted into them.

Likewise, Mariucci Arena, the home of Minnesota’s men’s team, boasts exceptional sight lines throughout the building but suffers from an ill-designed press box. Many seats in the box do not allow an easy view of the players’ benches or the ice surface from boards to the near faceoff spots.

Minnesota, the first Division I school outside of the ECAC to add women’s hockey, was instrumental in the formation of the WCHA Women’s League, won the last AWCHA title in 2000 and hosted the inaugural Women’s Frozen Four in 2001.

The University has once again come to the forefront in providing for its student-athlete and leading women’s hockey into what it hopes will be a new era.

WCHA “House”Hold Hints

When Minnesota opens Ridder Arena Saturday, the ceremonial puck drop will be presented by Kathleen Ridder, who dropped the puck for the Gophers inaugural game, Nov. 2, 1997, along with Julie Otto, the team’s first captain, and U.S. Olympian and former Gopher Courtney Kennedy … The 1999-2000 national championship team will also be introduced at the event … UMD head coach Shannon Miller was honored by the Calgary Flames at a luncheon in Calgary Tuesday … Miller will also conduct the ceremonial opening faceoff to start the game between the Flames and Boston Bruins Thursday at the Calgary Saddledome … SCSU first-year forward Gretchen Dahl is the niece of Husky men’s head coach Craig Dahl … SCSU head coach Jason Lesteberg was recently honored at his alma mater, Gustavus Adolphus, as one of that school’s top 15 men’s hockey players … An NCAA Division III All-American and national player-of-the-year finalist as a senior, Lesteberg graduated in 1996 … Four of the Huskies’ five goals over the weekend came from new players … The league’s two newest head coaches, BSU’s Bruce Olson and Wisconsin’s Mark Johnson, collected their first wins as collegiate head coaches over the weekend … Olson’s win came Saturday in a 2-1 win over St. Cloud State and Lesteberg, the Beavers’ former head coach … Johnson’s first win also came Saturday as the Badgers downed Northeastern, 4-2 … Wisconsin senior defenseman Sis Paulsen became the fourth Badger to join the 100-point club when she collected an assist in the Badgers’ 2-1 win over the Huskies … Ohio State was 7-for-12 on the power play in its weekend sweep of Minnesota State … Sophomore forward Jeni Creary, who led the league in goals last season, had points on six of the seven goals … Three league players, forwards Joanne Eustace and Caroline Ouellette of UMD and defenseman Carla MacLeod of Wisconsin, were missing in action over the weekend while taking part in the Canadian National Team Development camp in Toronto … Badger freshman forward Nikki Burish joins her brother, Adam, a frosh on the men’s hockey team at Wisconsin, as the first sister-brother duo in the four seasons UW has had women’s hockey … Burish is also the first women’s hockey player at Wisconsin from Madison.

WCHA Awards

Offensive Player of the Week–Jeni Creary, So., F, Ohio State
Defensive Player of the Week–Nicole Uliasz, So., D, Wisconsin
Rookie of the Week–Natalie Darwitz, Fr., F, Minnesota

Coming Up

No. 2 Minnesota at St. Cloud State (Friday)
St. Cloud State at No. 2 Minnesota (Saturday)

Minnesota has won five of six games at the St. Cloud State’s National Hockey Center … The Gophers have won 13 of the teams’ 14 meetings … Husky head coach Jason Lesteberg is 0-2-2 against Minnesota … He had his Bemidji State team in position to win three of four meetings with the Gophers last year, with three of the four games going into overtime … Minnesota junior forward La Toya Clarke needs just one point to join the 100-point club … Gopher sophomore goalie Brenda Reinen did not play in either of the team’s wins over Findlay as a precaution but is expected to be available this weekend … SCSU junior captain Kobi Kawamoto is out at least another month after breaking her ankle in the team’s 4-2 exhibition win Oct. 6 … Sophomore Melanie Pudsey, who hurt her shoulder in that game, and rookie Katie Hauge, who injured her ankle in practice, both missed the Bemidji State series and are questionable for this weekend.

Minnesota State at No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth (Friday-Saturday)

UMD will be raising its second NCAA championship banner to the roof of the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center Friday … The Bulldogs have won all 13 of their meetings with Minnesota State … Sophomore forward Caroline Ouellette, a gold medalist at the 2002 Olympics, makes her UMD debut this weekend after missing the team’s opening series at Providence, along with senior forward Joanne Eustace, while attending Team Canada’s development camp … A pair of rookies accounted for MSU’s goals last weekend … Freshman forward Devon Nichols scored the team’s lone goal in a 6-1 loss to Ohio State and sophomore forward Melanie Salatino, a transfer from Wisconsin-Superior, scored in a 3-1 loss …

New Hampshire at Ohio State (Friday-Saturday)

New Hampshire has won six of the teams’ first seven meetings … The Wildcats, who won their season opener, 4-0, over Vermont last week, are 22-2-1 in season openers … One of those two losses was a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Ohio State, Oct. 19, 2001 … The OSU power play was 7-for-12 in its opening series at Minnesota State … Sophomore forward Jeni Creary had points on six of those seven goals … Both Buckeye goalies, senior April Stojak and freshman Natalie Lamme, played against MSU and are expected to receive starts this weekend … UNH freshman forward Lindsay Hansen was named rookie of the week by Hockey East after collecting a pair of assists in a 4-0 win over Vermont.

No. 6 Wisconsin at Connecticut (Saturday-Sunday)

Wisconsin is 1-0-1 all-time against Connecticut … The Badgers are playing their second consecutive series against a Hockey East foe this weekend … Wisconsin posted a 10-1 win and a 1-1 tie in its home opener last season against the Huskies … Badger sophomore defenseman Carla MacLeod returns to the Wisconsin lineup after missing last weekend’s series while attending the Canada’s National Team Development Camp … Fellow blueliner Nicole Uliasz returned to the Badgers last weekend after missing the 2001-02 season playing with the U.S. National Team … For her efforts in leading a defense that allowed less than 20 shots in each of two games against Northeastern, Uliasz was named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week.

North Dakota at Bemidji State (Sunday)

After a pair of exhibition games last weekend, North Dakota is playing its first game against NCAA competition … Bemidji State is one of just two schools in the country to have already played four games this season … After going pointless in the season’s first game, BSU senior forward Amber Fryklund has scored in three straight games … Junior goalie Anik Cote started both games at St. Cloud State last weekend after splitting with senior Bre Dedrickson in the team’s opening series at Mercyhurst, Oct. 4-5 … The Sioux have three players with Division I experience in junior defenseman Abbey Strong and junior forwards Stasia Bakhit and Sherrie White, all of whom transferred from Findlay.