Gophers to host offensively challenged team at Ridder

Noah Seligman

There is a clear and present danger for opposing teams facing the offensive attack of Minnesota’s top-ranked women’s hockey team.

Minnesota ranks first in the WCHA in scoring offense, scoring defense and power-play efficiency.

The Gophers boast five players in the top seven spots in the WCHA in scoring – including sophomore forward Natalie Darwitz, who leads the conference with 31 points and ranks second nationally, averaging 2.58 points per contest.

But that offensive onslaught has turned into the sum of all fears with the whole team putting up points.

Minnesota has had eight or more players tally a point in four of its last five games, something that bolsters the Gophers’ offense.

“It makes it a more potent attack all the way around,” freshman forward Becky Wacker said. “(Our opponents) can’t just focus on one line or one player. They have to be aware of everybody on the ice.”

This weekend Minnesota (11-0-1, 7-0-0 WCHA) welcomes Bemidji State (2-11-1, 0-8-0) to Ridder Arena for a two-game series.

The Beavers don’t have the firepower to match the Gophers’ fireworks, especially this year.

Bemidji State graduated five of its top scorers from last season, who accounted for 77 percent of its scoring drive and 76 percent of its goal scorers.

The leading scorer for Bemidji State, freshman forward Kelly Hart, has six points on the season. Minnesota has eight players with six or more points – including five skaters who have tallied 17 points or more.

The Beavers are last in the WCHA in scoring offense, at .50 goals a game, and second to last in scoring defense, with a mark of 3.75 goals allowed per game.

With a dearth of offense, Bemidji State has to focus on trying to contain Minnesota’s offense.

“We have to be very disciplined, and we better play smart positional hockey,” Bemidji State coach Bruce Olson said. “We’re going to have to play smart defensively.”

The Beavers want to get in front of the Gophers and make it tougher for Minnesota to get to the net.

But with the number of players contributing for the Gophers, slowing the offensive rush is no small task.

“We’ve got great energy and great chemistry together on the ice, and we’re out there playing for each other,” Minnesota senior co-captain LaToya Clarke said. “It’s great that we have scoring from anywhere, and anybody and everybody is a threat on this team.”

Despite the obvious advantage on the scoreboard, the variety of contributors in the scorebook has some mental benefit as well for the squad that will help down the road.

“For players’ confidence the idea that all the lines are contributing are positive things,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “In tight games we’ll really need to have that contribution from a lot of different people.”

After putting on an offensive clinic last weekend, posting 16 goals against North Dakota, the Gophers want to ride that momentum to a fast start this weekend.

“Getting a good start is important for tempo of the game, for our confidence,” Halldorson said. “Sending a message early against an opponent is really important.”

Minnesota holds a 14-0-4 all-time series mark against Bemidji State.