Gophers edging closer to regular season title

With Minnesota-Duluth losing to Wisconsin and a Gophers sweep of Ohio State, Minnesota is sitting nicely.

One would think the Minnesota women’s hockey team is aware that they are riding a 19-game unbeaten streak and a 15-game win streak in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Apparently not.

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St. Cloud state
what: Women’s hockey
when: 7 p.m., Friday
where: St. Cloud

“I don’t think many of our players think about the streak,” junior forward Gigi Marvin said. “I couldn’t even tell you what our record is right now. We just really focus on who we’re playing at the moment.”

And focus they did with a convincing sweep of Ohio State over the weekend. The Gophers followed an electrifying 7-3 win on Friday night with a solid 5-1 victory Saturday and halted a three-year trend of series splits against the Buckeyes.

The sweep comes at a critical time, as Minnesota (23-4-3 overall, 19-4-1 WCHA) is still very much in the hunt for the regular season WCHA championship.

With a loss Friday, conference leader Minnesota-Duluth now mirrors the Gophers in the loss column with four. The Bulldogs have not recorded any ties, however, so Minnesota cannot catch Duluth without some help.

“We’re still a point behind so we can’t catch them unless somebody beats them,” coach Brad Frost said. “So for us it’s just about playing some good hockey down the stretch.”

With the way the Gophers played this weekend, that goal seems quite attainable.

After allowing Ohio State (12-15-3, 7-14-3) to get on the board first with a power play goal on Friday, it took Minnesota all of 16 seconds to answer.

“Whenever you can counteract and score right after the other team scores it’s huge, especially for our confidence,” senior forward Erica McKenzie said. “And it wears on the other team.”

With the momentum back in their favor, the Gophers found the net again just over four minutes later and rattled off two more before the first period ended.

Saturday felt a little like Friday as Minnesota again jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first and never looked back.

Especially impressive about the first period Saturday was how well the Gophers capitalized on their scoring opportunities. They put only ten shots on goal but four of them found the back of the net.

Minnesota’s power play production continues to be a strong point, as the Gophers scored five goals in eleven chances during the series.

Their penalty kill, on the other hand, struggled in the first two periods on Friday. Ohio State was able to score twice in three chances against a disjointed Gophers penalty kill unit.

Starting in the third, however, and carrying over to Saturday’s game, Minnesota suddenly dominated against the Buckeyes’ power play.

The Gophers did not allow a power play goal for the final four periods of the series, and Marvin even bagged a shorthanded goal early Saturday after senior forward Whitney Graft forced a turnover in Ohio State’s defensive zone.

It was certainly a big weekend for Minnesota in terms of momentum and confidence, but Graft believes the team’s focus is on anything but these wins.

“It’s on finishing our season, but it’s getting really exciting,” she said. “This is the fun part of the season when you get down to it and you have to play really hard. This is where the great teams show themselves.”