For Laura Bowman and Amy Petersen, it all started on the outdoor rinks in Minnetonka. Little did they know that 15 years later, the game they grew up loving would take them 1,000 miles away to University Park, Pennsylvania.
For the past three-and-a-half seasons, the dynamic duo called Penn State—aka “Hockey Valley”—home. And they’ve helped build a budding college hockey program with some State of Hockey firepower.
Penn State is currently in its fifth season as a full-fledged NCAA Division I women’s hockey program playing in the College Hockey America (CHA) conference. The Nittany Lions are one of 36 programs that sponsor Division I women’s hockey. Despite being a few states away, 10 Minnesotans make up almost half of the 21-member roster, which includes five ladies that played high school hockey for Minnetonka.
“We started playing hockey around age 7,” Bowman said.
Both Bowman and Petersen got their start following in the footsteps of their family members. For Petersen, though, it was a flier in the mail that got her family into it.
“I had an older brother that played for one year before me,” Petersen said. “My mom always says that Minnetonka Youth Hockey Association put a flier in our mailbox one day so they signed up my brother and he grew out of his gear pretty quick because he was a little boy growing up fast. So it worked out for me to play.”
For Bowman, she developed an interest in playing hockey at a young age by watching her father, Scott, play in a men’s league.
“I always knew that my dad played in a men’s league and I thought it was really interesting and I always wanted to play because he played,” Bowman said.
Petersen noted that because she grew up in the State of Hockey, playing hockey was second nature.
“Before I started playing organized hockey, you go down to the park with your skates and a stick and you attempt to play as best as you can at that age,” Petersen said with a laugh.
Bowman and Petersen both credit Minnetonka for really supporting youth sports and activities in the community.
“It is just a sense of community—Minnetonka. Everything you do is Minnetonka Youth Soccer Association or Minnetonka Youth Hockey Association,” Petersen said.
Bowman’s father was an influential mentor as he coached them throughout the majority of their youth. The tools to be successful didn’t start when they got to high school, but were instilled at a young age in youth hockey.
“I think a ton of the success goes to the coaches that we had throughout our youth,” Petersen said. “Our class, we could skate well, there was constant reinforcement of little things that played a huge role. When we got to high school we had a great coach (Eric Johnson) and they gave us the resources for us to be successful.”
Both are encouraged by their hometown’s current success and future.
“I think [our coaches] did a really good job at developing the youth program while we were there. Now it is even bigger since we have left,” Bowman said.
Though they were set to embark on a new adventure in a new part of the country, Amy and Laura wouldn’t be alone as they headed off to Penn State.
“I know that Hannah Ehresmann committed to Penn State while we were still in high school with her,” Petersen said. “So it was, yeah we are all going there. … I think Kelsey Crow committed when we had only been here a couple of weeks.”
Bowman recalled sitting in her dorm room communicating with Minnetonka Skipper Kelsey Crow on if she should commit to Penn State or not.
“I remember her calling or texting me while I was sitting in my dorm. ‘I need to make a decision. Tell me what you think about Penn State,’” Bowman said. “Give me the lowdown and I told her—and I think a week later she committed.”
How did the Nittany Lion-Minnetonka connection get started?
“I think that the Penn State coaches really liked what they saw from Minnetonka,” said Bowman. “I know some coaches have their tendencies to look at the same spots and I think that Minnetonka is a hub for very talented hockey players in the past couple of years and that is a testament to the youth program
and all the coaches that contribute to the development of girls
What started out as visionary blueprints less than a decade ago became a reality with the opening of Pegula Ice Arena in 2013.
“We are blessed to call this place home,” Petersen said. “It is the top facility in college hockey. It is always fun to play games; always fun to be in the locker room. It gives our team a place to bond; a place for the team to hang out.”
Bowman remembered her visit to the future site of Pegula Ice Arena and was able to see her future home with the help of some state-of-the-art technology.
“On my visit they took us through a virtual tour of the rink so that was pretty nice to see what the rink was going to look like,” Bowman said. “It was kind of cool to come to a program that is new and have a chance to build something from what was nothing a couple of years ago.”
If she ever takes it for granted, Bowman thinks back to her freshman year when the Nittany Lions moved from the old Greenberg Ice Pavilion into Pegula for the very first time.
“Whenever I am kind of feeling down or feeling like I don’t appreciate this place I think about the first two weeks when we were in Greenberg,” she said. “And walking from Greenberg to Pegula and walking into the locker room and seeing the older girls crying walking into the locker room and seeing everything that they were given. It is really just amazing how well we are treated by this program.”
With their college hockey careers coming to a close, Amy and Laura find themselves at or near the top of numerous Nittany Lion all-time records. What does it mean to them? They both want to see their current teammates and future Nittany Lions surpass them. Why? It will show progress for a program finding its ground.
Both Bowman and Petersen are on pace to become the first Nittany Lions in program history to eclipse the century mark in points. Bowman holds program records in goals and points while Petersen owns the program lead in assists. One could chalk up their success to almost 15 years of playing hockey together.
It’s cliché, but in this case, accurate: they really know where each other is on the ice. The chemistry is undeniable.
“I think [playing together for so long] definitely helps us a ton, especially now,” Petersen said. “I mean we don’t really yell for pucks, I think communication on the ice is important. I think there are times where we are so used to how each other play. Like I know if I am driving wide, Laura is probably driving to the back post. She’ll be there and I can count on that. That has definitely helped us.”
Amy and Laura won’t be sharing an apartment come the fall of 2017, but they will have left their mark on a burgeoning program. Come this summer, Petersen will be heading off to the Pacific Northwest, While Bowman is hoping to continue her hockey career before attending medical school to continue her research in malaria.
"I am going to be working for Milliman Consulting," said Petersen. "It is an actuarial consulting firm. I am going to be working in Seattle."
"It's a big-girl job," Bownman interrupts Petersen with a smile.
"I am actually hoping to go to med school after I finish undergrad," Bowman added. "I hope that I can continue research once I have my footing in the medical field, but I definitely want to be a doctor, specifically in oncology, maybe have some research in malaria because of my background, but who knows."
The duo has accomplished so much on the ice and they are poised for success in life after hockey. Little did they know it would all start on the outdoor rinks in Minnetonka.
"It all just started as fun and games with your friends at the rink," Petersen said.