She’s the Gophers starting goaltender now, and her performance this month will go a long way toward determining the team’s chances of winning a third consecutive NCAA women’s hockey title.
But Sidney Peters doesn’t seem fazed.
The Geneva, Ill., native has the perspective of a fourth-year junior who waited patiently for this chance. And she saw enough trauma as a volunteer EMT (emergency medical technician) in Haiti last summer to know any on-ice pressure isn’t life or death.
“It taught me that there’s more to life than hockey,” Peters said of her Haiti experience. “And it helped me to keep perspective this season when things got hard.”
Peters had some shaky moments in the net during December and January. But coach Brad Frost said she appears to be peaking at the right time, with the Gophers heading into Saturday’s WCHA playoff semifinal against Minnesota Duluth at Ridder Arena.
Minnesota (25-6-5) likely has earned a berth in the eight-team NCAA tournament ahead of Sunday night’s selection show, but this is a key weekend for seeding purposes.
The Gophers currently sit No. 5 in the Pairwise rankings on USCHO.com. Minnesota Duluth (24-5-5) is No. 2. The teams split their season series, with two wins apiece, and could meet yet again in the NCAA quarterfinals.
Saturday could determine which of the two teams gets home-ice advantage for that potential March 11 elimination game.
Saturday’s winner also advances to Sunday’s WCHA championship game against either No. 1 Wisconsin or No. 14 North Dakota.
The Gophers have won four of the past five NCAA titles, but this team enters March in an underdog role. Goaltending remains a big question. Peters’ two predecessors — Noora Raty and Amanda Leveille — won two NCAA championships apiece, playing some of their best hockey in March.
Peters had played in just 17 games before taking over the starting duties this season.
“Any time you don’t have a lot of game experience for three years, it makes it really hard,” said Andy Kent, Gophers volunteer goaltending coach. “Leading up to the second half, she started playing really well, but it was finding her game again.”
In December, the Gophers lost 8-2 at Wisconsin, one of their worst drubbings in years. Peters also started their 6-5 overtime loss to Boston University that month, as well as the 5-3 loss to Minnesota Duluth in mid-January.
“You don’t like getting beat up like that,” Peters said.
Again, it’s all relative.
Peters is majoring in kinesiology with a minor in biology. Eventually, she plans to head to medical school with a dream of becoming a Coast Guard physician. Last June, she spent eight days volunteering at the Hospital Bernard Mevs trauma center in Port-au-Prince.
She handled victims of car accidents, gunshot wounds and stabbings. She treated patients with AIDS and tuberculosis. She saw the country’s abject poverty firsthand.
“It’s such a good reminder that we’re blessed with so much here,” said Peters, who is 24-6-4 with a 1.65 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage. “The stuff that we complain about from day to day is stuff that people in other parts of the world would kill to have the opportunity to complain about.”
Since that last loss to UMD on Jan. 14, Peters hasn’t given up more than two goals in a game. In mid-February, she went save for save with the nation’s top goaltender, Wisconsin’s Ann-Renee Desbiens, as the teams skated to 1-1 and 0-0 ties.
“That was just so fantastic to see because we had 3,500 people here,” Frost said. “Sid’s seeing close to 40 shots [per game] and playing the top team in the country and was able to hold them to one goal.”
With a few more performances like that this month, Peters could etch her own place in the program’s storied history.