Gophers finally win game one of a weekend series

by Noah Seligman

It took all of February, but Minnesota’s second-ranked women’s hockey team won the inaugural contest of a two-game series. Saturday’s 4-2 victory over Minnesota-Duluth at Mariucci Arena was the Gophers’ first opening-game win since Jan 31.

“I was very happy,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “We played well in the first game of a series.”

Now the Gophers look to continue their solid opening effort and clinch the WCHA regular season title at St. Cloud State on Friday afternoon.

With a single point, Minnesota can be assured of a tie for first in the conference. With a win, the Gophers can earn their third WCHA title in four seasons.

Guilty conscience

Minnesota sophomore forward Natalie Darwitz tallied four points over the weekend, including three points in Minnesota’s 7-5 victory Sunday over Minnesota-Duluth.

But the Eagan, Minn., native said she spent more time in the penalty box than she wanted in Sunday’s contest.

Darwitz was whistled for five penalties, tying the school record for penalties in a game set by freshman defender Danielle Ashley in a 3-2 loss to Dartmouth on Feb. 7.

Darwitz said she was not convinced that she earned all the time she sat in the sin bin.

After putting home a short-handed goal in the first period, a fight ensued in the crease and she was knocked to the ice. She was sent to the penalty box for roughing and pleaded her case to the officiating crew.

“I was just questioning,” Darwitz said after Sunday’s win. “I got hit; I got the snot kicked out of me after I scored. How do I go in the box? Maybe I did something I didn’t know about.”

Go shorty

Sunday afternoon the Gophers found success a player down, scoring three short-handed goals, including two on the same penalty kill.

But offensive production playing 4-on-5 is not something Minnesota plans to hold in its arsenal.

“Scoring three short-handed goals is not something we are going to rely on,” Minnesota assistant coach Brad Frost said. “Our players did a really nice job on the penalty kill getting their sticks and their bodies in the passing and shooting lanes.”

But the Gophers were stung by the penalty kill of the Bulldogs on Sunday. Minnesota allowed its first short-handed goal since Feb. 10, 2001 against St. Cloud State.

However, the Gophers had three of their top penalty killers in the box at the time and their most productive line that totaled 12 points over the weekend.

Darwitz, junior Kelly Stephens and sophomore Krissy Wendell were trapped in the penalty box for roughing, and the Bulldogs took advantage of Minnesota’s scrambled line combination.

Ms. Hockey staying put

The Let’s Play Hockey newspaper announced Sunday that Erica McKenzie, a senior forward for Hastings’ girls hockey team, was named the winner of the 2004 Ms. Hockey Award.

The award is given annually to the top senior girl’s hockey player in Minnesota.

McKenzie has signed a letter of intent to play for Minnesota next season. She is the ninth recipient of the award, and the eighth athlete to win and intend to play for the Gophers.

“Our top priority in recruiting is to get the best players in the state of Minnesota,” Halldorson said. “I love the trend we’ve set.”

Wendell, Ashley Albrecht and Andrea Nichols, who are current Gophers, won the Ms. Hockey award in previous years.

More love for Minnesota

Minnesota freshman forward Becky Wacker was named the WCHA rookie of the week and junior goaltender Jody Horak collected defensive player of the week honors in the conference.

Wacker had an assist in Saturday’s win and scored two goals in Sunday’s victory.

Horak picked up the two wins and posted a 1.50 goals against average and a .951 save percentage on the weekend.