International Ice Hockey Federation

UMD on full display

UMD on full display

International strategy pays off

Published 05.04.2017 11:43 GMT-4 | Author Andrew Podnieks
UMD on full display
PLYMOUTH, MICHIGAN - APRIL 3: Switzerland's Lara Stalder #7 scores on Germany's Franziska Alba #95 to make it 1-0 in the first period during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/HHOF-IIHF Images)
The Women’s Worlds is a showcase for excellence in women’s hockey, but it is also an event for celebration for families and friends.

It's a time to appreciate the time and effort the players have dedicated to reaching their goal.

But for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, there is a comparable feeling of maternal joy, knowing its program has helped develop players the world over in achieving world-class play.

The United Nations of women’s hockey, UMD started to flourish under Shannon Miller. She was hired by the Bulldogs only two months after coaching Canada’s entry at the inaugural 1998 Olympics for women’s hockey. UMD was just starting a women’s team and saw no better coach than Miller, who went on to win five national championships in her 15 years with the team.

Miller’s philosophy was radically different from every other NCAA coach. She wanted top Americans and Canadians, sure, but she also wanted to recruit from Europe. 

That mentality endures to this day under current coach Maura Crowell, and the 2017 Women’s Worlds in Plymouth boasts UMD players from Switzerland (Laura Stalder), Czech Republic (Katerina Mrazova), Sweden (Michelle Lowenheilm, Maria Lindh), and, more obviously, the United States (Madeline Rooney, Kelly Pannek).

“I knew it was an international program,” Stalder explained. “When I got there it was tough at the beginning, but I was able to share things with the other European players. I knew it was a good program, and they’ve won five national championships.”

Reputation is all in sports, and Stalder wouldn’t have come to UND without great recommendation. “I talked to [German] Jenny Harss who was the goalie there, and we later became roommates. She talked about UND and showed me some pictures. And Laura Schuler who’s the head coach of Canada now, recruited me. I just had a good feeling about it, and it worked out well for me. I had a great four years.”

Of course, for a European to play in North America represents a great opportunity to improve by leaps and bounds—the ice time, the coaching, the competitoon. “It’s a high level of hockey, and the best players go there,” Stalder enthused. “You’re challenged every day, and you get better every day. It’s fun to see UMD teammates here. It’s hard to play against them at the beginning, but you get used to it.”

“I was recruited by Shannon Miller two years before I went,” Lowenheilm recalled. “It was a good choice for me. There were a lot of Swedish players there—Maria Lindh, who’s playing here, Linnea Hedin—we’re three Swedes now—and they told me all about the program. It was a good choice for me. It’s a great experience culturally. Our group gets along well. It’s fun having a team with players from so many different countries.”

Mrazaova is one of several Czechs who have sought out opportunities in the U.S., even before NCAA. Several have played high-school hockey, and she played in the CWHL in 2012-13.

“Before UMD, I played for the Boston Blades for a year and I was recruited by UMD that way,” she explained. In fact, the Blades won the Clarkson Cup that year, and Mrazova became the first European to play on a Clarkson Cup winner. From there, she went to the Bulldogs.

“It was an awesome program,” she said. “The old coaches were great, and the new coaches are also great. I love it. I love the school. It’s small, and the hockey is great. We have players from all over. Everyone can bring something from their culture, so we can learn from everyone. It’s something special and different.” 

So today, as parents and brothers and sisters enjoy the women on ice, so, too, can UMD alumna enjoy watching players who passed through, or who are still in, this most international of NCAA teams.


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