Gophers could ice WCHA title vs. Minnesota State-Mankato

Chris Lempesis

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team had three goals it wanted to reach this season, and after this weekend, the Gophers could have one less to worry about.

If top-ranked Minnesota (27-1-2, 22-0-2 WCHA) can pull off a sweep of Minnesota State-Mankato (8-16-6, 7-14-3), it would give the Gophers their first WCHA regular season title since 2002.

The teams will face off Saturday at Mariucci Arena and Sunday at Ridder Arena. Game times are set for 3:05 p.m. both days.

“It’d be a huge lift off our shoulders,” senior goaltender Jody Horak said.

“We have (our destiny) in our own hands now,” she said.

Senior forward Stacy Troumbly added that it would be especially nice considering the title-clinching win would come Sunday, which is Senior Day.

The series with the Mavericks also marks the end of a three-weekend stretch for the Gophers in which they have played three of the bottom four teams in the WCHA.

Still, the chance to clinch the No. 1 spot in the league tournament, which will be held at Ridder Arena on March 3-6, should be enough for the team to avoid any sort of letdown.

“It’s got to be important for us to really focus on Minnesota State and make sure we take care of business,” coach Laura Halldorson said.

One thing the Gophers will have to take care of is something they’ve had little problem with all season: scoring goals.

Minnesota State-Mankato has allowed the fourth-least goals in the WCHA this season.

“Mankato plays a very tight checking game,” Halldorson said. “They work real hard without the puck, and it is a challenge to get loose and create offense against them at times.”

As for what the offense will do, Halldorson said it will try to use the whole ice in order to create as many opportunities as possible.

If Minnesota can capitalize on enough opportunities against the Mavericks, the Gophers would then be able to fully concentrate on their next two goals: winning the WCHA tournament and, ultimately, a national championship repeat.

“We only have a maximum of, what, 10 games left?” Horak said.

“I just want to go out and play the best that I can and go out on a winning note.”

Injury update

Halldorson said that the team is in pretty good shape overall for this weekend.

The only two question marks for the series are senior forward Noelle Sutton (hand) and junior defender Krista Johnson (elbow).