DULUTH — The Gophers women’s hockey team was all but fighting for the WCHA regular season title this weekend at Duluth. But the Gophers fell just short of their goal in a fast-paced series that leaves them one point shy of first place.
After a strong 4-3 win on Friday night — the Gophers scored four consecutive goals, two within two minutes — Saturday proved to be more of a struggle for the fourth-ranked Gophers. They tied the Bulldogs 2-2.
The intense rivalry between the two teams led to a physical matchup in which both teams mounted double-digit penalties and several tense moments on the ice.
“Playing away against a packed home crowd and a strong team that has beaten us, without Courtney Kennedy, those are all huge disadvantages,” junior Nadine Muzerall said. “We were tired, but we’re too competitive of a team to think about that; we just scored points.”
Kennedy, a junior defender who received stitches in her leg after a collision in Tuesday night’s game against Minnesota State, was absent from the roster Friday but made a last-minute decision to play Saturday.
“Courtney had a big gash in her leg, and it was still swollen, but she wanted to play,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “She wasn’t at full strength, but Courtney at 75 percent is better than most defenders.”
Though the Gophers won Friday, they needed a win Saturday to knock Duluth out of first place. While a tie didn’t earn Minnesota the WCHA lead, coach Laura Halldorson feels the team has nothing to be upset about.
“This series had a lot of implications,” Halldorson said. “We knew there was a lot at stake, and we were playing for things beyond the win. But I’m happy because we had gutsy performances by a lot of people.”
The guts both nights came from Minnesota’s goaltenders. Sophomore Crystal Nicholas and junior Erica Killewald each posted career-high saves with 38 and 51 respectively. Saturday night the Bulldogs out-shot the Gophers by more than one-and-a-half times, and Killewald made continuously steady saves.
“I wanted to come out and stand on my head,” Killewald said. “I haven’t been very consistent, and I wanted to give my team a chance to win.”
Killewald’s sensational saves helped kill all six of the Bulldogs’ power plays Saturday night while her teammates went two for six on the power play against Duluth.
Scoring her 40th goal this season on one such power play was Muzerall, whose three goals in the series retained her spot as leading goal scorer in the nation. Muzerall considered the goals no small feat playing against Duluth’s four Olympians.
“Any time you lose to a team, it’s nice to get revenge, and we’re a different team from the last time we played,” Muzerall said. “We haven’t lost since we played them in December.”
After a weekend of hearing the packed Duluth crowd continuously chant “Go Bulldogs!” the Gophers are already focused on a possible rematch at the WCHA tournament in Bloomington, Minn.
“We’re always looking ahead,” Muzerall said.
Monica Wright covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]