Minnesota State-Mankato enters this weekend’s series with Minnesota’s top-ranked women’s hockey team with a sense of relief.
An Amy Egli goal eight seconds into overtime gave the Mavericks a 3-2 win over St. Cloud State and its first WCHA victory in nearly two years, dating back 48 games to Feb. 5, 2000.
“Our kids are excited beyond belief to finally get that monkey off their back,” Mavericks coach Jeff Vizenor said. “It’s been a long time coming, and we’ve been trying to make our own breaks for so long.
“Finally, things bounced our way.”
But Minnesota State-Mankato (4-19-1, 1-15-0 WCHA) has a huge roadblock in the way of its first winning streak since November 1999 in the form of a rolling Gophers squad.
Without a loss this weekend, Minnesota (19-2-5, 12-1-3) will set a new team record with a 22-game unbeaten streak. The current streak rests at 21 games set in 1999-2000.
The Gophers know they’re a hot team, and they also know what that means during the stretch run of the season.
“Now that we have the No. 1 ranking and first place in our league, we have a big target on our back,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “We start this weekend at Mankato, and I know they’re going to be fired up to play.”
The Gophers maintain a one-point lead over second place UMD despite having played two fewer WCHA games. Minnesota has eight regular season contests remaining – all versus conference opponents – and would clinch sole possession of the regular-season title with 12 points in those games.
The key to bringing home the hardware lies in Minnesota maintaining the level of play it has reached over the past three months.
“We just need to continue working hard,” freshman Kristy Oonincx said. “In the series against Duluth, we gave everything we had. It’s the extra efforts and everybody contributing in their own way that’s going to make us successful.
“Hopefully things will gel for us. So far they have.”
Though things have come together for the Gophers in the form of a 20-game unbeaten streak, nine one-goal wins and four ties prove Minnesota’s resolve has been tested.
“The No. 1 goal at the beginning of the year was to be the hardest working team in the country,” Halldorson said. “That’s a pretty lofty goal and it’s pretty strong words. But for the most part we’ve been pretty consistent on really focusing on working hard.”
In the meantime, Minnesota will focus hard on this weekend’s series in hopes of maintaining its lead in the WCHA.
Aaron Blake covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]