When right wing Maria Rooth felt that she'd outgrown the
competition in her native Sweden after her senior year in high
school, she decided to continue her career at a university in the
U.S. In researching American colleges, Rooth came across the one
name she knew, that of Shannon Miller, the 1998 Canadian Olympic
team coach who later that year started the women's program at
Minnesota-Duluth. "Of course I knew about her," Rooth says of
Miller, who played for the Canadian National team before
successfully stepping behind the bench. "I knew she was a big,
tough girl who knew how to win."
Not long after arriving in Duluth, Miller realized that the only
American kids who were interested in her program were those
passed over by Big Ten schools and colleges in the Northeast. To
combat that, Miller went abroad to find the best players in
Europe, a source that had been all but untapped by her
colleagues. "I'm not a leftovers sort of coach," says Miller,
who scouted the 5'10" Rooth, along with the six other Europeans
on the Bulldogs' roster.
The only leftovers in last week's inaugural NCAA Frozen Four
tournament, at Minnesota's Mariucci Arena, were No. 1-seeded
Dartmouth and No. 3-seeded Harvard. Minnesota-Duluth's 4-2
victory over No. 4 St. Lawrence in the title game on Sunday was
fitting, given that the NCAA tournament signaled a new order in
the women's college game. By the time the U.S. women won the gold
at the 1998 Olympics, roughly 40 schools had made women's ice
hockey a varsity sport. Yet for two years before the NCAA added
its stamp of legitimacy, the American Women's Collegiate Hockey
Alliance hosted a final four in near obscurity. From 1984 through
'93, the postseason tournament, run by the ECAC, was an informal
affair that Brown coach Digit Murphy described as a reunion for
"the prep-school circuit," complete with postgame pizza parties.
The blue-bloodletting began last Friday afternoon. The Saints,
who were a combined 1-5-1 against the top three teams this
season, knocked off the Big Green 3-1. Goalie Rachel Barrie, the
18-year-old ECAC rookie of the year who in 1999-2000 played for
the otherwise all-male Smith Falls (Ont.) Bears in the Central
Junior Hockey League, coolly brushed aside 31 shots in the
victory. After the game St. Lawrence players confessed that
while they "always want to kill the Ivies," they hoped that
Minnesota-Duluth would beat Harvard in the other semifinal. Why?
"We haven't beaten them yet [the Saints had knocked off the
Crimson 3-2 on Jan. 6]," said sophomore left wing Casey Peterson.
They got their wish when the Bulldogs overpowered Harvard 6-3
that night. While Crimson junior center Jennifer Botterill and
senior right wing Tammy Shewchuk, the nation's top scoring duo
who'd totaled 131 regular-season points, scored the three
Harvard goals, they could not make up for the Crimson
blueliners, who were defenseless against the bigger, faster
Europeans in the Minnesota-Duluth lineup. With the Bulldogs up
2-1 in the third period, Rooth scored three times in 16 minutes.
Despite also being dominant during the regular season, when she
rang up 2.2 points a game, Rooth wasn't a finalist for the Patty
Kazmaier Memorial Award as the nation's top player, as Botterill
and Shewchuk were. When Botterill won that honor at a banquet
last Saturday night, Rooth, a sophomore, was carbo-loading at a
nearby restaurant. "Maybe it was an international thing,"
Minnesota-Duluth sophomore goalie Tuula Puputti said of the
apparent snub. Rooth was unperturbed, saying, "Isn't it the
championship that everyone wants?"
It was a championship she got on Sunday night. From tournament
MVP Rooth down to 5'4" sophomore center Jenny Hempel, who
ignited the team at the end of the first period with a goal,
Minnesota-Duluth outmuscled St. Lawrence and got to more loose
pucks and rebounds. After the game the Bulldogs pumped their
fists toward a small but ebullient group of parents who were
chattering in a variety of accents in the stands. "Most of us
found a way to get here, from all over the world!" Shirley
Pachal, who had driven from Saltcoats, Saskatchewan, to watch
her daughter, Pamela, a sophomore defender, had said after the
semifinals. "Last year, when the girls lost in the [AWCHA]
semis, our 1985 Tercel almost didn't make it. This year we got a
'97 Gulf, and it made a big difference."
Miller smiled when she was asked about Minnesota-Duluth's quick
ascension to the top of women's college ice hockey. "It took a
perfect mix of players from all over," she said. "What resulted
from that mix was an extraordinary chemistry." Added Rooth, "We
may speak different languages, but on the ice we're on the same
COLOR PHOTO: BRUCE KLUCKHOHN Puputti (in net) and Pachal both shined for the Bulldogs in the Frozen Four.