Minnesota sweeps Niagara

Junior forward Erica McKenzie is out two to four weeks after hurting her knee.

Brian Deutsch

The fourth-ranked Minnesota women’s hockey team used two game-winning goals from junior forward Bobbi Ross to earn a sweep over Niagara this weekend.

After squeaking past the Purple Eagles 4-3 on Saturday, the Gophers held on tight to an early lead in order to best Niagara 3-1 on Sunday.

Saturday’s game started off neck and neck between the two teams as they traded goals during the first two periods of action.

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After Niagara drew first blood early in the first period, Minnesota (8-3-1 overall, 5-2-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) battled back with a goal of its own from junior forward Erica McKenzie less than two minutes later.

The Gophers’ special teams played impressive hockey, scoring two power-play goals, one from senior forward Andrea Nichols and one from freshman forward Brittany Francis in the second period.

Not to be outdone, the penalty-kill lines shut out the Purple Eagles, allowing only eight shots on five power-play opportunities.

Ross scored her fourth goal of the season when she caught a pass from junior defenseman Anya Miller and beat Niagara senior goalie Allison Rutledge.

The Purple Eagles (4-6-2, 0-0-0 College Hockey Association) added a goal with two minutes left in the third period to bring them within one, but costly penalties at the end of the period prevented them from evening the score as Minnesota won its third-straight game.

“Niagara was a very hardworking team,” Ross said. “They had some very good chances to make it a very interesting weekend.”

A low point for the Gophers came early in the third period when McKenzie went down with a knee injury.

McKenzie will likely miss two to four weeks with the injury, meaning the Gophers will have to skate without one of their points leaders.

“It really hurts not having McKenzie in the lineup,” Ross said. “No one knows how much she does for us, I can’t even explain it.”

With McKenzie out for the second game of the series, the Gophers were more than happy to welcome back sophomore forward Gigi Marvin for Sunday’s finale.

“I got home at about 10:30 this morning (from the Four Nations Cup), I didn’t know much about (Niagara) if anything,” Marvin said. “I was just coming in excited to play with my teammates.”

After a scoreless first period, Minnesota turned into a goal-scoring machine during the second.

The Gophers scored all three of their goals in the second period.

Freshman forward Kelli Blankenship put the Gophers on the board two-and-a-half minutes into the period, and Ross added two more goals of her own to give the Gophers a comfortable lead going into the last period of play.

“Some people said the puck was bound to go in with all the pressure we were putting on them,” Ross said. “(The goals) were just a product of everyone on the ice working hard.”

For the second day in a row, Niagara started to heat up as the game wore down. The Purple Eagles finally got on the board six minutes into the third period when Niagara caught sophomore goalie Brittony Chartier out of position for their only goal of the night.

But the Gophers were able to withstand the pressure to earn their fifth-straight home win.

“We felt better about (Sunday’s) game just based on the way we played,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “Obviously there are things we need to work on and it’s going to get tougher in the future.”

U.S. team takes silver

The United States Four Nations Cup team was awarded the silver medal after losing the Gold-Medal game to Canada 5-2.

Five players on the U.S. team have ties to the Gophers including junior Rachael Drazan and Marvin.

Team USA finished the tournament 2-2 after handily beating Sweden and Finland.

But Canada proved to be too much for the United States – beating them twice in the tournament.