Struggling Mankato comes to Ridder

The Gophers are 9-0-2 on their home ice with a chance to make it 11-0-2 this year.

Austin Cumblad

Right now, it would be difficult to find a team in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association that is looking forward to playing at Ridder Arena.

The No. 4 ranked Minnesota women’s hockey team currently boasts a pristine 9-0-2 record at home and hopes to maintain it when Minnesota State comes to town this weekend. Friday and Saturday’s games are both scheduled for 7 p.m.

The Gophers (17-4-3 overall, 13-4-1 WCHA) face a struggling Mavericks team that has been swept in four of its last five WCHA series. Their last conference victory came against North Dakota nearly two months ago.

The Mavericks’ recent conference difficulties mean nothing to Minnesota, however. Coach Brad Frost insists that Minnesota State (6-15-1, 5-12-1) is capable of winning at any time against any opponent.

“Our conference is so tough that you can’t take a night off,” he said. “They have great forwards, three tremendous lines and a lot of Minnesota kids that love coming back to the cities to play.”

In addition, sweeps have not come easy as of late for the Gophers. In their last three sweeps, the second game has been decided by an odd goal after convincing wins on the first night of the series.

“The second night, somebody lost (the first game),” Frost said. “So whoever lost is going to come back even harder than the first night.”

Still, the players believe it is possible to avoid the close games. They find the keys to be focus and intensity.

“We’re really just trying to make sure we’re ready to go at the drop of the puck,” senior defender Anya Miller said.

This is especially important against MSU, who outshot the Gophers in the first period of both games when they met in Mankato earlier this season. Senior forward Erica McKenzie knows the intensity the Mavericks can bring and respects their ability to dominate teams early.

“We need to go out there and move our feet and work hard,” she said. “I think that’s the biggest thing against Mankato because they work so hard and they’re such a gritty team.”

Yet slow starts have not been the Gophers’ problem lately. Instead, putting the game away has proven difficult.

In three of their last four games, they have allowed a goal with less than three minutes left to play, twice relinquishing the possibility of a shutout and once giving up a goal that sent the game into overtime.

McKenzie said the team has talked about finishing games strong, and asserts that they must not get caught too deep in the offensive zone, allowing their opponents an advantage at the other end of the ice.

“We need to play smart and not allow three forwards to get caught deep,” she said. “Otherwise we leave our defense out to dry.”