Women’s hockey all but set for Frozen

Brett Angel

Although hockey is primarily a winter sport, Laura Halldorson has gotten used to seeing her teams play well into the month of March.

Since Halldorson’s arrival as head coach of Minnesota’s women’s hockey team in 1996, she has guided the Gophers to four national tournament appearances in its first five years of competition – including a national title in 2000.

Players on this year’s team know that history and don’t expect to be hanging up their skates for the season any time soon.

Minnesota currently sits third in the Pairwise Rankings, a system that attempts to mimic the method used by the NCAA Selection Committee in determining the teams that will participate in the Frozen Four.

“We’ve got a good chance of being there,” said Minnesota forward Krissy Wendell, who returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since fracturing her collarbone Feb. 8. “Hopefully it’ll work out.”

The Selection Committee will make its official announcements Sunday. The Frozen Four will be held at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center in Duluth, Minn., from March 21 to March 23.

Meanwhile, Minnesota is

continuing to practice as usual at Ridder Arena in anticipation of Sunday’s announcement.

With Wendell back on the ice, the Gophers appeared refreshed, and perhaps more importantly, far removed from their 5-3 loss to Minnesota-Duluth last weekend in the WCHA tournament. It was the fourth time Minnesota lost to the Bulldogs in five tries this season.

If the Gophers are invited to Duluth, there’s a good chance they will end up playing their in-state rivals yet again in the semifinals.

“In the back of our minds we’re thinking we’ll probably see Duluth in the first round,” Halldorson said. “But it’s going to be a huge challenge no matter who we play.

“In the six years that we’ve had a national tournament, this will be the deepest field.”

The other two teams making the trip to Duluth will likely be Harvard, currently No. 1 in the nation, and Dartmouth, currently No. 4.

The Gophers handed Harvard its only loss of the season at Ridder Arena on Nov. 17, but lost to Dartmouth in their only meeting.

The seeding of both teams could potentially change depending on the results of the ECAC tournament to be concluded this weekend.

“You’ve got to beat ’em all to win – or at least two of them,” said Minnesota’s leading scorer Natalie Darwitz. “It doesn’t matter who it is.”

Regardless of Minnesota’s opponent, Halldorson is hoping Wendell’s return will provide the Gophers with the added energy and scoring ability they will need to hang another national championship banner from the Ridder Arena rafters.

“It’s not going to really matter who is playing with who, we just need to play with a high level of intensity to be successful,” Halldorson said.

The Gophers remain confident they will get that chance, but must wait until Sunday night to find out for sure.