Laura Slominski remembers precisely when women’s hockey came to Minnesota.
That was in 1995 and Slominski was in the eighth grade. Two years later, women’s hockey skated its way into the collegiate ranks when the University of Minnesota started a program.
Slominski played four years as a Golden Gopher, from 1998-2002, and is now an assistant coach — her dream job at her dream school.
She was a member of the 2000 national championship team that defeated Brown in the final, the first of three the Golden Gophers were to earn in six seasons. Minnesota defeated Harvard in 2004 and 2005 in the finals. Only Duluth, another power in the WCHA, also has three national championships.
She will be among the alumni honored when the Golden Gophers celebrate a decade of excellence, the slogan they’ve coined to mark the alumni game, dinner, reception and other events this weekend.
It is a weekend to celebrate the past — with the resignation of former 10-year-head coach Laura Halldorson — and to officially welcome the heir apparent, interim head coach Brad Frost, who worked as Halldorson’s assistant and associate head coach for seven years. The school says it intends to do a full-fledged national search after the 2007-08 season — Halldorson’s August resignation caught them by surprise — and though it would appear Frost is auditioning for the job, he’s not concerned.
“I’m more excited about the opportunity to be able to be head coach than feeling the pressure, he said. “The bar here has been set really high and I plan to continue that. I’ve been preparing for it for seven years so it seems like a natural fit. This is my dream job and I certainly want to continue in it.”
In fact, whenever anyone speaks of Minnesota, past or present player or coach, it’s about the history of success.
“I’m very proud of our tradition over the past 10 years,” said Slominski, who coached at St. Cloud State University and St. Olaf College before joining the Minnesota staff two seasons ago and returning to “where I wanted to be all along.” Her experiences at other schools helped prepare her transition to the powerful Division I school.
“I grew up watching men’s hockey, she said, referring to her brother and his high school teams (he played hockey at Notre Dame for a year ). “When girls hockey came in 1995, the timing couldn’t have been better,” she said. Although she looked at Yale University, UNH — the defending national champion her senior year at Burnsville High School — and Northeastern, “and there was a lot there, when it came down to it I’m a Minnesota kid and I just wanted to play here.”
That she did with distinction, leading her team to the national championship, being named one of the 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2002 and being among the nation’s top players her entire four years at Minnesota. (In 2005, Minnesota’s Krissy Wendell won the award; most years the Golden Gophers have had finalists for it.)
She both played and coached under Halldorson, who resigned because, in her own words, “I felt the time was right. I felt good about the program — that it was in good hands,” she said alluding to Frost.
“The bottom line is that I had done my thing coaching for 20 years and I felt I needed to be doing other things,” Halldorson said.
The most current “other thing” for Halldorson is planning this weekend’s 10th anniversary celebration. From the smallest details to the slogan etched in the ice, printed on programs and signs to rounding up 36 former players, including past Olympians and all-Americans, Halldorson is embarked on a labor of love.
After notifying everyone of the event, the banquet room at the Radisson-Metrodome quickly filled up and they had to find space for an “overflow dinner,” Halldorson said. More than 250 people are expected at the banquet, including the members of the current team.
“It’s important for them to see the history and traditions of the past,” said Halldorson. Four teams, the 1997 inaugural team and the 2000, 2004, and 2005 national championship squads, will be cited for special recognition.
Of all of her accomplishments, Halldorson said she’s most proud of the fact that every woman who has played four years at Minnesota has a championship ring. The team has now been to five consecutive Final Fours.
Frost knows of the tradition and expectations behind the program. This weekend the Gophers play Minnesota-Duluth (6-0-1) twice, a tough in-state and conference rival, currently in first place in the league. The Golden Gophers are 3-2-1, having split at Ohio State last weekend in a pair of games they were expected to win. The other loss was to St. Cloud State, which they also tied.
The Golden Gophers have outshot their opponents in all of their games; overall they hold a 170-106 edge in shots, but haven’t finished enough to defeat them.
“We’re doing some things really well,” said Frost. “Right now we’re it he midst of a really tough stretch,” he said including four games with Minnesota-Duluth in the next four weeks. He said the offense has been pretty solid in putting the puck in the net. “It seems like we have control of the puck and then the other team gets it and puts it in the net. Everyone needs to do a little better job in the defensive zone,” he said.
Frost said the Gophers are still the same offensive-minded team they were during Halldorson’s reign. “We still like to go up and down the rink,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’ve been giving up too many goals.” The team has made and given up 15 goals in six games.
Senior Bobbi Ross also spoke of the tradition when she thought about the coming weekend. The current team will attend the banquet so that they have a chance to connect with the past.
“It’s a crazy tradition that raises the expectations of everyone,” Ross said. “I still feel new to it when I consider all of the people who came before. But I know I will find my place in it someday.”