Philipczyk and Nichols helping to diversify Minnesota in opponents’ zones

Zach Eisendrath

The two-person game has worked well before in sports. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen won six NBA championships for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant won three rings with the Los Angeles Lakers.

But if Minnesota’s women’s hockey team wants to win its third national championship in as many seasons, the fifth-ranked Gophers (17-8-1, 12-7-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) will need more than just two forwards to shoulder the scoring load.

With Minnesota’s opponents starting to key their defensive strategies on locking down sophomores Bobbi Ross (14 goals) and Erica McKenzie (17), others will have to step up for the Gophers to make a run into late March.

Fortunately, help may be on the way.

Overlooked in Minnesota’s disappointing trip to Columbus, Ohio, last weekend was the scoring explosion from sophomore Jenelle Philipczyk.

After a three-goal weekend against Ohio State, Philipczyk now is third on the team in goals scored, with nine.

Most of her success has come as of late. Five of Philipczyk’s nine goals have come in the past two weekends.

Coach Laura Halldorson said there are many reasons for Philipczyk’s surge.

“Jenelle works extremely hard,” Halldorson said. “She is gaining confidence shooting and scoring. But she also plays with great linemates. Her linemates have a lot to do with it. But “Flipper’ has been great.”

Philipczyk said the credit belonged to her linemates.

“I just think my teammates have worked really hard,” she said.

Another scoring threat has emerged with the solid play of a healthy Andrea Nichols. The junior captain was injured earlier in the season but has returned to form in recent weeks.

Three of Nichols five scores came in January.

Nichols said there were a few reasons for her newfound production.

“The first part of the year I felt like I was in a little slump,” she said. “But I never got down on myself really.

“Players have ups and downs, so I knew I just had to work through it.”

Said Halldorson: “Heading into the second half of the year we talked about special teams and scoring. We want to continue to have other people put the puck in the net. I think we’ve done a better job lately with some balanced scoring.”

Veterans key defense

On numerous occasions this season, one of the dynamic duo of Ross and McKenzie has been named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week. And at times, freshmen goaltenders Brittony Chartier and Kim Hanlon have taken home weekly conference Defensive Player of the Week honors.

But the Gophers still have relied on their upperclassmen, most notably senior defenders Allie Sanchez, Ashley Albrecht, Krista Johnson and Chelsey Brodt ” each members of two national championship teams.

Minnesota doesn’t have a single senior forward, but the Gophers said they know how important their senior defenders are to their success.

“In general, defensemen just fly out of the radar when it comes to attention and publicity,” Halldorson said. “But we’ve said from the beginning of the season that our seniors on “D’ were going to be a huge part of our success this season. They are playing successfully well right now.”

Darwitz not forgotten

Last week former Minnesota hockey player Natalie Darwitz announced she was going to forgo her senior season of eligibility with the Gophers and immediately signed a contract with Easton Hockey.

“She certainly made her mark in Gophers women’s hockey and has two championship rings to show for it,” Halldorson said. “She has a silver medal in the Olympics. All that really is left for her is a gold medal. Hopefully she’ll get a shot at accomplishing that this winter. We wish her the best.”