Three points in Mankato leave Minnesota alone in third

by Zach Eisendrath

For a team that has been considered inconsistent all season long, Minnesota’s women’s hockey team is starting to break that label.

Playing in their last series of the calendar year, the fifth-ranked Gophers (12-5-1, 7-4-1 WCHA) beat interstate rival Minnesota State-Mankato (9-7-2, 6-6-2 WCHA) 1-0 Friday night and tied the Mavericks 1-1 Saturday afternoon at All Seasons Arena in Mankato.

For its effort, Minnesota extended its unbeaten streak to four games, improved its road record to 7-0-1 and moved into sole possession of third place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings.

“I look at it from a positive standpoint,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “We came away with the three points, we wanted to win both games, but we played hard and the effort was there.”

Sophomore Bobbi Ross said she was satisfied with the team’s effort, but not with Saturday’s tie.

“We’ve got to be happy with the all-around team effort,” Ross said. “But we’re definitely not going to be satisfied.”

For the most part, all Minnesota needed to rely on was the brilliant play the freshman goaltender duo of Brittony Chartier and Kim Hanlon provided.

“Both played really well,” Halldorson said. “They were key for us. (Minnesota State) had a hot goalie on their end and (both games) we had one in our own end.”

On Saturday, despite a slow start, Chartier was able to keep her team in the game down the stretch.

The Mavericks gained the early advantage when Kristina Bunker put the puck past Chartier at 7:42 in the first period to give Minnesota State a 1-0 lead.

But the Gophers responded with their own first period score when senior Ashley Albrecht tied the game at the 15:56 mark with her first goal of the year.

Neither Chartier nor Mavericks goaltender Brit Kehler would surrender another goal.

On the afternoon, Chartier stopped 14 shots, including six in the all-important third period, and one in sudden-death overtime. Chartier is 9-5-1 on the season. Kehler recorded 31 saves.

Friday, Mankato ” the most penalized team in the WCHA ” lived up to its statistical reputation. The Maverick’s Noelle Needham was called for a five-minute checking violation from behind major just 2:20 into the game. The penalty ended Needham’s weekend, disqualifying her from the game and suspending her from Saturday’s contest as well.

However, Minnesota was unable to take advantage of its early five-minute power-play opportunity as it was called for two penalties of its own during the same time period. For the period, the Gophers were unable to convert on any of their eight power-play shot attempts.

But in the second period, Minnesota showed it had no need for the power play. With both teams at even strength, sophomore Whitney Graft put the puck past Kehler at the 16:21 mark, her fourth goal of the season.

“Whitney Graft has been very solid for us all season,” Ross said. “It just showed up this weekend on the scorecard.”

Graft’s goal was all the Gophers could muster and all that they would need, as freshman goalie Hanlon was spectacular in net.

In only her third start of the season, Hanlon blanked Mankato, stopping all 24 shot attempts. In three starts, Hanlon has recorded three shutouts.

Although not content, Ross said she believed the team played one its most consistent weekends of the year.

“This weekend,” she said, “we finally played a full six periods of solid hockey ” more so than we have anytime in the past month.”