Power Play

Putting Minnesota on the map with a national title was the easy part. For the Gopher women's hockey team, sustaining that reputation is the challenge.

Toward the end of the game, Killewald is pulled from the goal, and Minnesota has six of its best scorers--Muzerall, Kennedy, Clarke, Olson, Ambria Thomas, and Ronda Curtin--peppering the Wisconsin goalie, but to no avail: Time runs out, and the Gophers have dropped another game.

A week later the NCAA will announce the bids for the inaugural Frozen Four. The tournament is to be held in the Twin Cities, a nod to Mariucci Arena, the quick ascension of the Gopher program, the 25 years Laura Halldorson has dedicated to the game, and the national title these players won last year. When the four teams who will vie for a national title are announced, the Gophers--whose late season slide pulled them down to as far as sixth in the nation in some rankings--will be left out in the cold.

 

At the end of what turns out to be her final game as a Gopher, Muzerall stands at the net, her face shield up, gasping for air and dousing herself with Killer's holy water. The rink is small enough that she can be heard violating Halldorson's swearing ban. "Shit, shit. Fuck them. Shit."

As much as nights like this one indicate that no matter who plays it, hockey is a blood sport, it is also very much a game. Hang around Muzzy long enough and she'll tell you how much that game has meant to her, but she'll also let you know that she's conflicted about why, at this point in her life, she's still playing. "No one understands how it goes when you are young," she will say. "Suddenly you say, 'Oh my god, I'm gonna be out in the real world. What am I gonna do?'"

Muzzy will reflect on how good hockey has been for her, how she needed to grow up and get out of Streetsville. She'll talk about how she has found the best friends in the world playing hockey, but it's been hard to keep those friendships because it's been so transitory, so geared toward being a great hockey player and nothing else.

Muzzy will talk about how happy she is to take La Toya Clarke--one of two black women in college hockey--under her wing, and how they related to each other because they both came from outside of Toronto and were raised by single mothers. She'll tell you how wonderful Laura Halldorson has been to her, and she'll talk about how her teammates picked her up this season.

"It's been an emotional roller coaster, and I didn't feel very good about myself," she'll say. "I didn't know what to do about this thing that I had based my life on that was failing me." And here the iconoclast will get a little misty at the concept of leaving a team that she helped build.

"Nineteen years is long time to be playing hockey," she'll say. "It's my life. It's my identity. When I don't have that, I feel like I'm gonna be lost. I'm not gonna know who Nadine Muzerall is anymore."

All of these doubts have plagued Nadine Muzerall as her last season with the Gophers winds down. At the end of the loss to Wisconsin, it's hard not to imagine that Muzzy is rolled up in the complex emotions that accompany defeat, doubtless contemplating life after hockey. But, being Muzzy, she puts down the holy water, shrugs off whatever is bothering her, and turns to join her teammates, who are shaking hands with the Wisconsin players. On her way, though, she looks over her shoulder at the adjacent practice rink. Through the windows, on the other side, a group of about ten girls is going through the motions, learning how to figure skate.

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