Sweep of Brown leads into home stretch

Minnesota flew past Brown 8-2 Friday and 5-0 Saturday at Ridder Arena.

Aaron Blake

In 1964, Brown University started the first collegiate women’s hockey team.

Forty-one years later, Minnesota’s women’s hockey team made Brown look like a club team.

The top-ranked Gophers (19-1-2, 14-0-2 WCHA) swept the ninth-ranked Bears 8-2 Friday and 5-0 Saturday at Ridder

Arena in their final nonconference games before the Frozen Four.

Minnesota now turns its attention toward six straight series against WCHA opponents hoping to hang on to its slim edge in the standings.

Minnesota would seem to have the momentum for it, coming off a four-week holiday break with three shutouts in four games, including a 2-0, 5-0 sweep of Bemidji State last weekend at Ridder Arena.

“I think it’s a good break,” said captain Krissy Wendell, who tallied four goals and three assists on the weekend. “If you go too long, you can almost get burnt out. You kind of need that break.”

The Gophers looked as fresh as ever against the Bears (10-8-1), taking out a timeshare in the Brown zone for the weekend. Minnesota outshot Brown 93-37 overall, including a season-high 54 shots Friday.

Natalie Darwitz became the school’s all-time assist leader Friday, passing Ambria Thomas with three assists to give her 113 for her career.

The junior added two more Saturday and leads the nation with 43 assists and 67 points.

Goaltender Jody Horak earned her 72nd career win Friday and stands one short of tying Erica Killewald for the program record after giving way to fellow senior Brenda Reinen on Saturday.

Reinen earned her second shutout in two weeks, turning away 14 shots. She had only played in four games before the break, but she said she feels comfortable in net and the defense in front of her is really coming together.

“There’s a lot of communication,” Reinen said. “They’re doing a great job of getting the puck out, and the whole team’s doing a great job of blocking shots. So I’m not facing as many now as maybe earlier in the year or last season.”

Despite all the positives for Minnesota, the weekend was marred somewhat by a third-period altercation in the Minnesota crease area that led to six penalties for a combined 23 minutes and a disqualification for Brown forward Katie Guay.

“I think it was a game that got increasingly physical as it progressed,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “And then, it just kind of escalated.

I don’t condone that style of play. But at the same time, if our players are sticking up for each other, I think some of that is understandable.”

But the negatives were few and far between and, for the most part, the Gophers’ sweep was clean as could be.

Not too bad for a team that’s only been around since 1997.