Breakthrough: Gophers sweep third-ranked Cats

by Monica Wright

Some people say miracles happen. The Minnesota women’s hockey team says hard work pays off.
For the first time in the three-year history of women’s hockey, the Gophers beat perpetual powerhouse New Hampshire 6-2 Saturday and 5-4 Sunday before crowds of about 1,000 in a weekend series that should boost Minnesota to a fourth-place ranking.
The Gophers started Saturday’s game with momentum; they scored two goals before allowing the Wildcats their first point in the second period.
But Sunday couldn’t have started worse for Minnesota — the Wildcats slapped in two goals in the first five minutes of the game.
“The first game gave us confidence, but we knew New Hampshire could come back strong, and their two goals in the first period really put us back on our heels,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said.
The Gophers came back in the next two periods by taking advantage of power-play opportunities. Minnesota scored on three of its six power plays Sunday while holding New Hampshire to scoring on only one of five chances.
“Special teams has been big for us on power plays and with short-handed goals,” Ambria Thomas said. “We definitely weren’t nervous about special teams.”
Despite the advantage, the Gophers were out-shot by the Wildcats in both games, a fact junior Nadine Muzerall is quick to explain.
“When we shoot, we know how to score. For some reason, we were shooting, and they were going into the back of the net. We had good accuracy,” she said.
Muzerall’s accuracy was never questioned: she scored five of Minnesota’s 11 goals, giving her 21 goals in 10 consecutive games.
Goalies Crystal Nicholas and Erica Killewald also had big weekends, making 31 and 34 saves, respectively. Nicholas, who only played against Minnesota’s less-challenging opponents, was given her first experience against an East Coast team.
“This was the most pressure Nicholas has had in her career,” Halldorson said. “Two goals in the beginning were hard, but to her credit, she hung on and made some big saves. Winning two games with two different goalies really shows the depth of that position.”
Ahead for the Gophers is the more difficult leg of their schedule, with games against Ohio State and first-place Minnesota-Duluth. But for now, the team just wants to revel in their long-awaited victory.
“This was as big as it gets,” Muzerall said.

Monica Wright covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected].