Physical rivalry continues in Minneapolis

Noah Seligman

The last time Minnesota’s top-ranked women’s hockey team faced off against sixth-ranked Minnesota-Duluth, five-on-five hockey was a rarity.

When the squads lock up Saturday and Sunday afternoon on campus, Minnesota expects to see more of the same.

“Usually when our two teams play, it’s pretty physical,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said.

When the Gophers (22-4-2, 15-3-2 WCHA) and Bulldogs (17-9-2, 13-6-1) met to begin the second semester of play, the teams were not filled with holiday cheer coming off break. The two teams combined for 29 penalties over the two games and 66 penalty minutes. There were seven roughing calls, one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed and a 10-minute misconduct penalty by Minnesota sophomore forward Krissy Wendell for checking from behind.

It was the play involving Wendell and Minnesota-Duluth forward Jenny Potter that caused the most controversy after the series.

“I was going hard into the corner and she had her back turned,” Wendell said. “It was completely unintentional.”

The Bulldogs had a slightly different interpretation of the play. Minnesota-Duluth coach Shannon Miller said she felt that the hit was late and deliberate.

“It was pretty obvious the physical play was directed at us,” she said. “If people are going to run my best player we’re going to stand up for ourselves.”

The place to be

This weekend features an odd predicament for both teams. Saturday’s game will be played at Mariucci Arena on the Olympic-sized ice sheet, 200 feet by 100 feet. Sunday the teams will battle on the smaller pond, the 200 feet by 85 feet rink at Ridder Arena.

“It’s a highly unusual situation,” Miller said. “You have to expect weird things like that. The truth is it benefits us more.”

The Bulldogs are not worried about the change in venue after playing on a larger ice sheet in recent weeks. Minnesota-Duluth played at St. Cloud State last weekend on an Olympic-sized rink and has practiced on bigger ice rinks the last two weeks.

Minnesota-Duluth also said they believe the smaller ice at Ridder Arena works to its advantage. The Bulldogs said they hope limited space can reduce the effect of Minnesota’s speed.

“Everyone in the world knows we don’t have the talent and depth of the Gophers,” Miller said.

But Minnesota is not willing to concede the upper hand to the Bulldogs in terms of the tactical advantage on each rink.

“The players with speed benefit,” Halldorson said. “We have some of those players, and they have some of those players. As a team I don’t know if it’s necessarily any team advantage, but it’ll make for a little more wide-open game.”

The most-feared duet

The biggest challenge for Minnesota this weekend will be matching up against the offensive firepower of Minnesota-Duluth.

The Bulldogs boast the top two leaders in points, goals and assists in the WCHA with Potter and junior forward Caroline Ouellette.

“The whole team knows that they are great offensive players,” Minnesota freshman defender Danielle Ashley said. “We just plan on taking the body, pinning as much as possible hoping to slow their offense down. We’re not just mainly concentrating on those two players but they are definitely on our mind.”

Minnesota-Duluth leads the conference in scoring offense, averaging 4.55 goals per game.

While the Gophers said they want to play the body of any attacker inside the blue line, Minnesota knows it must play with its head on defense.

“You have to play smart,” Halldorson said. “It’s being very aware and conscious of what they’re trying to do in our defensive zone.”

The Bulldogs tend to gamble in the offensive zone, occasionally working the puck low with their third and fourth attackers.

“I like to take risks to create offensive opportunities,” Miller said. “We’re not scared to work the puck low in the zone.”