Sweep gives Gophers WCHA title

Minnesota shut out Minnesota State-Mankato 5-0 Saturday and 3-0 Sunday.

Chris Lempesis

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team used its special teams to pull off a special feat this weekend.

Scoring half of its weekend tallies on the power play, Minnesota swept Minnesota State-Mankato to clinch its second WCHA regular-season championship in a row and third in four years.

The top-ranked Gophers (29-1-2, 24-0-2 WCHA) beat the Mavericks (8-18-6, 7-16-3) by scores of 5-0 Saturday at Mariucci Arena and 3-0 Sunday at Ridder Arena.

“We have a special group of players,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said.

“The WCHA is the toughest league in the country. I think it says a lot about our players that we’ve had that success in a league where there’s a lot of great teams.”

The Gophers scored two power-play goals Saturday and a pair more Sunday.

Freshman forward Bobbi Ross and junior forward Krissy Wendell lit the lamp Saturday, while junior forward Natalie Darwitz and senior forward Kelly Stephens did it Sunday.

All in all, Minnesota was 4-for-12 on the power play.

“That’s good news for us as we head into the stretch run here,” Halldorson said. “Because once you get into the playoffs, a lot of times those special teams can make the difference, because you’re generally playing great teams.”

The power-play performance was just a part of the Gophers’ overall offensive dominance.

Minnesota outshot Minnesota State-Mankato 89-30 for the weekend and spent large chunks of time in its end throughout the series.

“Basically, they control the puck,” Mavericks’ coach Jeff Vizenor said. “When they have the puck on their stick, we can’t score goals.”

Scoring proved to be a problem for the Mavericks even when they had the skater advantage, thanks in large part to the play of the Gophers’ penalty kill.

Minnesota killed off all eight Minnesota State-Mankato power plays, allowing the visitors a total of four shots on those eight power plays.

Minnesota will close out its regular season next weekend with a two-game set in Duluth, Minn., before beginning its national championship defense.

And while Sunday’s league-clinching win was nice, Stephens said the team is “taking it in stride.”

“We don’t want our season to come to this stop or anything, obviously,” she said. “It’s a great accomplishment along the way ,and now we’re just going to keep going.”