The Bulldogs from the University of Minnesota in Duluth are the reigning national champions in women's college hockey. But this is a confusing season. The team's roster seems to change from game to game. Several of the team's stars are taking off a week here and there to train for the Olympics -- and they're playing with four different national teams.
Half of the Bulldogs come from foreign countries.The team has five players from Canada, four from Finland, two from Sweden, one from Switzerland, and one from Russia.
Here in Duluth, they play on the same team, but many of these young women play against each other in international competitions. Swede Maria Rooth says the players tease each other about their national rivalries, but it's all in fun.
"There's no use picking on people because they're from different countries," she says. "I mean there's so many Europeans, there's so many Canadians, so we all stick up for each other. We all get along pretty good."
Rooth is the top scorer for UMD this year. She's also a star on the Swedish national team. She's been back and forth between the two teams this fall. Rooth and fellow Bulldog Erika Holst will spend the whole month of February with the Swedish Olympic team. They’ll come back to Duluth in time for the college play-offs in March.
Rooth has more immediate concerns. This week, she's getting ready for final exams.
"There's not much free time at all," Rooth says. "After hockey, you go home and do your work and go to bed and get up next morning. So it's pretty much the same routine every day. But that's what you have to do if you play this much hockey."
The UMD women's hockey team is rated No. 1 in the country, and they're undefeated so far this year. The team is right in the middle of the college season, but even so, the coaches tell the international players it's okay to concentrate on the Olympics.
The players say they can't do that. They say they're UMD Bulldogs until they put on the jerseys for their national teams.
"When we travel to go with Team Finland, you kind of try to put the Bulldogs aside for a while," says Tuula Puputti, who plays goalie for UMD and for Finland. "When we come back, we just forget Team Finland for a little while again and concentrate on the things here, so, you just kind of have to have two lives."
UMD's international players all give the same reason for coming to Duluth: the coaches.
Head coach Shannon Miller came to Duluth three years ago, and started the women's hockey team. Before that, she coached the Canadian national team. She coached Team Canada at the last Olympics, and at several World Championships. Miller knows hockey players from all over the world.
"And so when I moved to the U.S. to start a college hockey team, I thought, why don't I use my international contacts, extend the recruiting boundaries, go into Europe and bring back some prizes? And I got lucky, and I did, and we won a national championship in only two years of existence as a team," Miller says.
Here's a Canadian, at a U.S. university, coaching hockey players from six different countries. You might think Shannon Miller would be torn over who to root for at the Olympics.
"I'm a very patriotic person, as most people are," she says. "So my allegiances lie with Canada, of course. But I'm also going to be cheering for all the players who play here for me, and their respective countries. The bottom line is, I just love women in sport. I think it's great that women's hockey is at the Olympic Games. So I'm one of those mushy people that says I'm going to be cheering for everyone who's playing because I think it's great."
About 30 countries now have women’s hockey programs, but the U.S. and Canadian teams are far ahead of the rest of the pack. Team USA beat Canada for the gold medal in 1998. They’re the two favorites to win medals in Salt Lake City, too. Finland is a strong candidate for the bronze.More Information