Spring boarding off last season and the team's second NCAA tournament appearance, UND's women have a lot to be satisfied with after another strong campaign in the WCHA ― arguably the top conference in the women's game. UND has not finished below .500 since the last Olympic year of 2010.
UND associate head coach Peter Elander recently took time to reflect on UND's current team and how it has risen from a perennial league cellar dweller to a dominant NCAA program.
Elander, who coached Sweden in the so-called "Women's Miracle on Ice," an upset shoot-out victory over Team USA in the 2006 Olympics, said UND has remained strong in the face of a relative youth movement, thanks to a core of veterans and talented players who've played at the highest level of women's hockey.
"The team now contains just two seniors and three juniors, but they've been able to mature both on the ice and off the ice with players of Olympic caliber," he said. "On the ice, in the weight room and in the dressing room, these players are showing by example what you need to do to be great for the younger players. What better mentors could you have than teammates who've reached the pinnacle of women's hockey ― the Olympic Games?"
UND had three of its current players on Olympic rosters in Sochi, Russia, this year: Michelle Karvinen (Finland), Susanna Tapani (Finland), Tanja Eisenschmid (Germany). Another current UND player Johanna Fallman nearly made Sweden's Olympic roster. Those players are only adding to UND's Olympic legacy, which includes two of the best women's players ever to suit up at UND: Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, identical twin sisters from Grand Forks who won silver medals with Team USA in 2010 and 2014.
Also, UND's Karvinen was honored with the "The Directorate Award" for being the most outstanding forward of all women players at this year's Olympics.
Much of UND's success in recruiting Olympic talent to Grand Forks can be attributed to Elander's global connections. He anticipates more of these type players will be wearing UND green and white in the future.
"From now on, I expect that every Olympic games will have players from our program," Elander said. "Our current Olympic players have created a legacy of what you have to do to reach the Olympics. Future recruits know that North Dakota can help them reach the Olympic level of play ― it's a great fit for future players from all over the world."
This past season also saw UND's women knock off powerhouse University of Minnesota 3-2 in the Gopher's barn on Nov. 17, halting Minnesota's amazing and historic 62-game winning streak. UND was the last team to beat the Gopher's before that streak got rolling.
"It showed us and everybody else in women's hockey that North Dakota was a legit good hockey program even without the exceptional Lamoureux twins," Elander said.
During the Gopher's return trip to Grand Forks in January, More than 5,830 people showed up for the Friday night game to watch the two rivals go head-to-head on the ice. That attendance set a new record for the women's college hockey at the Ralph, shattering the old mark of 3,200 in 2002. It also was a record for women's hockey in the state of North Dakota.
"I think the team got a little nervous at the same time they were proud of the total support from the Grand Forks community," said Elander, about the UND-Minnesota game at the Ralph. "There were more people watching that game than 90 percent of the Olympic games."
Compared to other UND sports, the UND-Minnesota game was the most-attended UND women's event, so far, this year.
Elander said UND's young squad will continue to build on its past successes but, as always, it will take one game at a time.
"We are a very young team who is learning all the time," he said. "We will be even stronger in the future because our freshman and sophomores have been thrown right into the fire and they are improving."
David Dodds and Kate Menzies University & Public Affairs writers