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The life and death of UND women's hockey

In the beginning, there was only one picture.

It hung just outside the UND women's hockey coaching offices, the lone artifact on Ralph Engelstad Arena's walls dedicated to the program.

The photo actually had nothing to do with the program itself—it was an 18-by-24 inch framed action shot of the U.S. celebrating its 1998 Olympic women's hockey gold medal—but it was something to acknowledge women's hockey for the players and coaches.

The rest of the $104-million Ralph Engelstad Arena was packed with historical photos and artifacts from the tradition-rich men's program—from the entryway to the concourses to the hallways in the basement—but the northwest corner remained bare, waiting for a new program to make its own history.

This is something coach Bruce Olson told players in 1999, when he tried to recruit them to play for the newly founded club program.

"We tell players that they are here as pioneers in women's hockey," Olson said at the time. "We tell them they can look at their pictures on the wall when we turn Division I, and maybe some day, their daughters will be playing here."

UND made the jump to Division I in the fall of 2002 after exhaustive research by faculty athletic rep George Schubert, prodding from local women's hockey advocate Charlotte Hovet and guidance from highly accomplished men's coach Dean Blais.

The first UND women's hockey artifact went up on a wall that fall.

It was the front of the Grand Forks Herald's topics section on Oct. 24, 2002, two days before the program's first home game as a Division I team.

The first coach of the Division I era, Shantel Rivard, had it framed and put on the wall just inside the coaches office. The page had profile pictures and quick facts about all 22 members of that original team.

It included defenseman Jessica Kovacevich, who was the first player to sign a National Letter of Intent to play for the program. It showed Meaghan Nelson and Marissa Hangsleben, the first Grand Forks natives to play for their hometown team.

It also featured Stasia Bakhit, Sherrie White and Abbey Strong—the three transfers from the University of Findlay who starred that first year and helped UND to a surprising 10-win inaugural Division I season.

Those two artifacts remained as the lone women's hockey tributes for the next several years as the young program attempted to jump into the powerful Western Collegiate Hockey Association without a full complement of scholarships.

It wasn't easy.

UND was outscored 32-3 during its first two weekends in the WCHA in 2004, playing against national powers Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth, and it struggled to recover, despite having a star goalie in Brittany Kirkham.

UND dealt with players quitting out of frustration, getting kicked off the team and transferring. Outside of its initial freshman class in 2002, only about a fourth of the players in the next four recruiting classes made it through their senior year.

Some disgruntled players started telling recruits on visits not to come to UND. Others scheduled spring break trips during the playoffs, confident that UND wouldn't be there.

The exception was the class of Melissa Jaques, Randi Motsko, Kelsey Fletcher and Casie Hanson.

They were juniors when Brian Idalski took over for Rivard as head coach the fall of 2007 and were the perfect group to set the groundwork for the future of the program.

Jaques was, perhaps, the most talented player UND had to date. Hanson was an all-around athlete who was among UND's brightest in the classroom. She won the NCAA's Top VIII Award and her picture still hangs in the NCAA's headquarters in Indianapolis.

Motsko was the second player in program history to play four years without missing a single game (the first was original team member Devon Fingland). And Fletcher was a character player who brought experiences from a different program—she transferred from Clarkson.

When that group left in 2009, the photo of the 1998 Olympic team came down.

UND now had its own history to showcase.

One of the first pictures that assistant coach Maria Lewis put up in its place was of the 2009 senior class.

Next to it was a photo of Susanne Fellner, a German defenseman who became UND's first-ever Olympian. A few feet away, it put up the framed Norwegian National Team jersey of goalie Jorid Dagfinrud. Then, it was a photo of Kovacevich.

The Lamoureuxs arrive

About 320 miles away, superstars Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux saw what was happening.

The Lamoureux twins had just led the University of Minnesota to the NCAA Frozen Four as freshmen. They combined for 140 points that season and were about to head to the Olympic Games.

But the Lamoureuxs had deep ties to Grand Forks and UND.

Their mother, Linda, swam at UND. Their father, Pierre, won two national titles with the men's hockey team. Their brother, Jean-Philippe, had been a star goalie and Hobey Baker Award finalist at UND. Another brother, Mario, was on the men's team at the time. A third brother, Pierre-Paul, was a student assistant coach.

So, the Lamoureux twins decided to give up a sure thing at Minnesota—a guarantee to play with the world's best, imminent national titles and long-lasting scoring records—to try to help build UND's emerging program.

They envisioned the women's program someday becoming like the men's—rich in history and championships and thick with annual expectations. They imagined local girls growing up with dreams of playing for the UND women's team, the way their brothers dreamt of playing for the men.

Just months after announcing their intention to transfer, the Lamoureuxs went to Vancouver and became UND's first female Olympic medalists in any sport, bringing home silver. They were two of Team USA's stars in the tournament.

Two weeks after the Vancouver Games, Swedish National Team coach Peter Elander, the architect of women's hockey's version of the Miracle on Ice (the Swedes stunned the Americans in the 2006 Olympics), announced he was coming to UND as an associate coach, opening a new window into recruiting top Europeans.

And that same offseason, Erik Fabian became the first former men's player to hold a coaching position on the women's side when he was hired to be an assistant.

The program turned the corner.

Prior to that 2010-11 season, UND had finished below .500 in seven of the program's first eight years. It had never hosted a WCHA playoff series. It never reached the WCHA Final Faceoff or the NCAA tournament.

But the Lamoureuxs' first season at UND kicked off a seven-year stretch where the program finished .500 or above every year, finished in the top half of the league every year, reached the Final Faceoff every year and played in two WCHA title games and two NCAA tournaments.

In 2012-13, the senior year for the Lamoureux twins, UND may have narrowly missed out on an NCAA national championship. It lost 3-2 in an epic triple-overtime game in the NCAA quarterfinals to top-seeded Minnesota.

Many players on that Gophers squad, which finished the season 41-0-0 and is widely considered the greatest college team in history, said they knew the winner of that quarterfinal game would likely win the national championship. Minnesota did.

The momentum from the Lamoureux twins helped UND start to land other national team-caliber players. Eight UND players suited up in the 2014 Olympic Games.

It was more history to add to the corner.

To display it, The Ralph constructed two new walls outside the women's hockey locker room—one dedicated to UND's major award winners, the other dedicated to the team's international successes.

The major award winner display featured the names of the Lamoureux twins and goalie Shelby Amsley-Benzie, who were Patty Kazmaier Award finalists. It also featured all-conference players in Olympic bronze medalist Michelle Karvinen, Halli Krzyzaniak, Amy Menke, Becca Kohler, Josefine Jakobsen, Gracen Hirschy, Meghan Dufault, Anna Kilponen, Kayla Berg, Susanna Tapani, Cami Wooster and Ashley Lynch.

The international wall featured names of Olympics, Women's World Championship participants and IIHF World Under-18 team members from the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Germany.

One name included on that wall was Max Markowitz.

The UND women's hockey program wasn't just a place for developing players, it also became a spawning ground for young coaches.

Markowitz was a 19-year-old undergraduate student in 2010, when he asked Idalski if he could help out with the team. Idalski agreed.

Markowitz soon took over duties as the video coach, kick-starting his coaching career. He later went on to join the staff of the 2014 Finnish Olympic women's team, thanks to Elander's connections, and is now an assistant coach with Tulsa Oilers in the ECHL.

Fargo Force assistant coach Eli Rosendahl got his start as a volunteer goalie coach with the program and Ryan LaDouceur, now the director of The Hockey Academy, started as a student coach for the women's program. Rosendahl and LaDouceur were 23 and 22 years old when they joined the women's hockey staff.

In 15 years, the once-empty walls became filled with highlights from wins over powerhouses Minnesota and Wisconsin, tributes to performances on the Olympic stage and hopes of someday adding national championship banners like the men's team.

It hadn't been done yet, but the coaching staff thought it was possible with the incoming recruiting class and with super-recruit Alina Muller considering UND.

End of an era

But that all ended on an ominous day in late March.

While the team was practicing for the next season, word leaked out that new UND President Mark Kennedy, who started nine months earlier, had decided to cut the women's hockey and men's and women's swimming and diving teams to alleviate budget concerns.

The players, coaches, alumni and supporters—including Winnipeg Jets chairman Mark Chipman—asked Kennedy if they could raise money to reinstate the program. Kennedy said only if it was $60 million to endow the program.

That wasn't possible.

The players and recruits were forced to find new homes and the remaining staff was forced to pack away the memories and history they raced to build in just 15 years.

Former players Lisa and Layla Marvin, whose grandfather, Cal, started the UND men's team in the 1940s, realized they wouldn't be able to watch their program blossom like their grandfather did.

Director of operations Kevin Vaughan, who spent more than a decade with the program and held summer positions with USA Hockey, packed up equipment that no longer had use.

Athletic trainer McKynsay Vanderpan, the only person who was with the program from its first day to its last, boxed up items in the training room—the place where she not only patched up injuries but also served as a sounding board for all things in life for players. She was most of the most popular figures within the program.

The pictures that took a decade to put up came down in an afternoon on finals week. The last one remaining was the Herald front page dedicated to the inaugural team that Rivard put up 15 years earlier.

Then, arena workers took down the wall of award winners and the tribute to international players and Olympians. It may later appear on the concourse.

By Friday afternoon, there were no pictures or jerseys left in the northwest corner of the rink.

The halls were empty.

The walls were bare again.

And the lights were off.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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