If Minnesota women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson were a teacher, she said she would give her Gophers a B at the midway point of the season.
Despite having difficulty at times in all facets of the game, Halldorson said she is still more than satisfied with how her young team has played in the early going.
“We’re having a good season, but it can still be better,” Halldorson said. “Overall it has been good, but I’m hoping for improvement.”
Perhaps most remarkable for a team comprised mostly of underclassmen is that Minnesota is unbeaten on the road (7-0-1), 9-0 when scoring first and 12-0 when taking a lead into the final period.
Halldorson said she has been happy with the play of her starting forwards, specifically sophomore Erica McKenzie.
McKenzie (14 goals) along with reigning Western Collegiate Hockey Association freshman of the year Bobbi Ross (12 goals) have been carrying the offensive load for Minnesota, combining for 43 points.
But with other teams starting to lock down on the sophomore tandem, Halldorson said she is looking for others to help shoulder the offensive load in the second half.
Defensively, Halldorson said she has been pleased with the play of her veterans, including senior Allie Sanchez, who she labeled “just solid.”
Her concern, she said, is with her inexperienced defensemen. Halldorson said she has been impressed with the way freshmen Dagney Willey and Melanie Gagnon have handled themselves on regular shifts, but would like to see their penalty minutes reduced.
“I think Melanie and Dagney are still trying to figure out what is a considered a penalty and what isn’t,” Halldorson said.
Halldorson has had no complaints with the performances turned in from behind net by freshmen Brittony Chartier and Kim Hanlon. The co-starters have combined for a 1.75 goals against average.
Special teams remains Halldorson’s main area of emphasis. The Gophers continue to be great on the penalty kill ” they stopped all nine Minnesota
State-Mankato power-play attempts last weekend ” but continue to have trouble on their own power plays. Minnesota was equally inefficient, failing to convert on all 11 of their power-play opportunities.
“It is still an area we need to work on,” Halldorson said. “We’re not where we want to be, but I saw some good things (against Minnesota State-Mankato). I thought our puck movement created a lot of scoring chances.”
Halldorson has chosen all season to mix lines from game to game.
But Halldorson said she is in no hurry to settle on permanent line combinations.
“The earlier that we can settle into a lineup that we can stick with, the better,” she said. “But, at the same time, there is always something that comes up, whether it be an injury or something that throws it off.”
Rise to the top
Despite their share of early season struggles, the Gophers are still in the thick of things when it comes to competing for the WCHA regular season championship.
By sweeping Minnesota State-Mankato this weekend, Minnesota secured sole possession of third place in the conference standings.
As it stands going into second-semester action, the Badgers and Bulldogs are deadlocked at the top with 25 points respectively. Minnesota remains a distant third, trailing the conference leaders by 10 with 15 points.
Halldorson said the team is eager to play its rematch series with Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin in the second half of the season.
“We can’t worry too much with what happens with other teams,” Halldorson said. “We can only worry about what we can control. Wherever that puts us, we’ll take it.”
Assistant coach Brad Frost talked after the game about the importance of what is done between now and the next game.
“We don’t want to lose any ground in terms for fitness,” he said.”
December has been an unkind month for Minnesota on the injury front.
On Friday, sophomore Anya Miller suffered a head injury in the first period of Minnesota’s 1-0 win over Minnesota State-Mankato. Miller sat out Saturday’s contest.
Halldorson said she believes when the team gets back to full strength, they will reach their full potential.
“We’re getting there as a team,” she said. “We are just trying to build momentum. I think there is more in us and when we get healthy we will show that.”