Gophers recall Mavericks’ ambush win

If nothing else, Minnesota State-Mankato knows it can beat Minnesota.

Bridget Haeg

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team will have a little extra incentive to beat Minnesota State-Mankato this weekend.

The Mavericks (0-3-1, 0-3-1 WCHA, seventh in WCHA) last year became one of only four teams to beat the eventual national champions, sparking what some members of the top-ranked Minnesota team (6-0-0, 6-0-0 WCHA) are calling a new intrastate rivalry.

Minnesota plays the Mavericks at 7 p.m. today and Saturday at the All Seasons Arena in Mankato, Minn.

In their last matchup, the Mavericks secured a 3-2 overtime victory, handing the Gophers their first home loss in more than a year.

“They come out to play hard because they are playing Minnesota,” senior goaltender Jody Horak said. “A lot of their kids would have liked to come here. So I think that’s becoming a kind of rivalry within the state.”

The Gophers won’t be quick to forget that outcome – especially with the Mavericks coming off a 3-3 tie with fifth-ranked Minnesota-Duluth last weekend.

When preparing for this weekend’s series, the team discussed how to approach a team with a history of physical play. This could present an extra hindrance because of the NCAA’s decision to start enforcing penalties more consistently.

“We’re not going to get bounced out of the rink,” sophomore forward Becky Wacker said.

“We know we’re strong enough to stand our ground. But we’re going to keep our game, which is being skilled and not being physical.”

The Gophers expect Minnesota State-Mankato will attempt to counteract their speed by employing this physical play, meaning Minnesota will have to work extra hard not to retaliate.

“It’s going to be just as much a mental battle as a physical battle, because we’re going to have to keep our cool,” Wacker said.

More penalties bring more special teams, which should benefit the Gophers this weekend. Their power play holds the nation’s best conversion percentage at 45.9, and their penalty kill ranks second in the nation at 95.7 percent.

Assistant coach Brad Frost said special teams, power play and penalty kill will play critical roles this weekend.

“All the refs are consistent in that they’re calling penalties, so we’ll just have to adjust to how much they are letting us play,” Frost said.

The Gophers are still working on adjusting to this new consistency. They showed slight improvement last weekend versus Bemidji State, earning 12 penalties in the series versus 25 against St. Cloud State the weekend before.

The team will also look to improve in its defensive zone this weekend, where breakdowns have led to the four goals allowed this season.

“I think we struggle at times with it, and other times we do it really well,” Horak said. “I think we just need to get back to that for this weekend.”

Horak, who was in the goal for last season’s overtime loss, enters this series with a 4-0-0 record, having allowed only one goal this season.

She faced only eight shots Oct. 22 against Bemidji State but should get more work versus Minnesota State-Mankato.

“They know they are facing the No. 1 team in the country,” Horak said.

If the series proves to be anything like last year, the Mavericks know they can beat Minnesota.