On its mission to return to the team’s fifth Frozen Four in the program’s six years, the Minnesota women’s hockey team ran into a Big Green roadblock Friday.
The Gophers traveled to the east coast for contests against nationally-ranked Dartmouth and New Hampshire in hopes of solidifying their position as one of the top four teams in the country, but instead returned home having suffered their third defeat of the season.
Minnesota (18-3-1), ranked third in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online poll, was outplayed by fourth-ranked Dartmouth in the first game of the trip, falling behind early and losing 6-3.
The Big Green (12-5) stated their own case as one of the elite teams in the land by scoring three first-period goals on Minnesota goalie Jody Horak and sending the visiting Gophers to their worst loss of the 2002-03 campaign.
Minnesota registered just four shots in the opening 20 minutes, and lost for the first time this season to a team other than Minnesota-Duluth.
But down three scores and on the road, the Gophers showed the resiliency that has produced so much success so far this season.
Winny Brodt and La Toya Clarke each scored power-play goals in the first five minutes of the second stanza, pulling Minnesota within one.
But Dartmouth effectively ended the comeback with a backbreaking score just 12 seconds before the second intermission.
Minnesota suffered the loss despite going a perfect 3-3 on its power play opportunities.
With just four teams in the country earning bids to the national tournament at the end of the season, the Gophers’ game Saturday against No. 5 New Hampshire suddenly loomed even larger.
In what Head Coach Laura Halldorson called a must-win situation, Minnesota’s defense dominated the Wildcats on both ends of the ice and carried the team to a 4-0 shutout.
“We didn’t want to come out here and lose two games to Eastern teams,” Halldorson told U.S. College Hockey Online. “I’m glad we responded the way we did (Saturday).”
Senior defenders Winny Brodt and Ronda Curtin scored one goal each for the Gophers, who held New Hampshire to just 19 shots on goal.
Minnesota continued its solid play on special teams, going two-for-five on the power play while holding the Wildcats scoreless in seven opportunities.
Amazingly, the swarming Gopher defense allowed just one shot on goal during those seven chances, including none during a crucial five-on-three stretch in the first period.
Halldorson said her team was much better prepared at the beginning of Saturday’s game and took advantage of its speed on the Olympic-sized ice at the Whittemore Center.
Brodt, who also added an assist in the game, recorded her first two career points against the team she won a national championship with as a freshman in 1998.
New Hampshire had been the only team on the Gophers’ schedule that Brodt had not tallied a point against in her collegiate career.
Horak, who was beat for just the second time Friday, was back between the pipes Saturday and earned her 15th win and third shutout of the season.