Top-ranked Dartmouth to test Gophers at home

by Noah Seligman

While the eyes of the political world have shifted from New Hampshire, the focus of the women’s hockey world is still centered on the tiny New England state.

Dartmouth College (16-1-2, 9-0-1 ECAC), located in Hanover, N.H., is currently the top-ranked team in the country.

This weekend, Minnesota’s second-ranked women’s hockey team hosts the Big Green for a two-game set at Ridder Arena.

Minnesota (19-2-1, 13-2-1 WCHA) lost two games to Dartmouth last season, including a loss at the Frozen Four. Winning both games, and some respect, is the central focus for the Gophers.

“They outplayed us in both games,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “We feel that we have something to prove and want to come back a little stronger this year.”

One key for Minnesota is being prepared to play as soon as the puck drops.

“They’re a fast starting team,” Minnesota assistant coach Brad Frost said. “We’re going to have to use our energy being at home and try and jump on them and see how they play from behind.”

The Gophers will also defend a high-powered offense that produces 6.1 goals per game for Dartmouth. Though the Big Green will be without the services of leading scorer Katie Weatherston and defender Meagan Walton, who are both playing for the Canadian Under-22 Team, the job for Minnesota’s defense does not get much easier.

“We’re going to look to limit their opportunities in the slot area,” Minnesota assistant coach Joel Johnson said. “Anytime you’re getting 6.1 a game you’re probably getting high percentage shots. What we have to focus on is keeping them on the perimeter.”

The Gophers worked on playing together and on trying to be more physical in one-on-one situations this week in practice.

While Minnesota knows it faces a big challenge this weekend, Dartmouth knows it has a stiff test as well.

“Our trips to Minnesota have been great games,” Dartmouth coach Mark Hudak said. “It’s fun to play another team like that and see where you’re at.”

Hudak also said his team has focused on the principles of hockey this year, and it has served his squad well.

“Take care of the little things and do those well,” he said. “The big things will take care of themselves.”

The Gophers aim to reclaim the top spot in the country this weekend and should have no problem getting up for the series.

“There’s huge excitement,” Minnesota senior co-captain La Toya Clarke said. “I think we’ve been looking forward to this for a couple of weeks because we know Dartmouth is going to be tough. It will be a good weekend.”

Gophers go global

USA Hockey announced that Minnesota junior forward Kelly Stephens, sophomore forward Krissy Wendell and sophomore forward Natalie Darwitz have been named to the U.S. National Team.

The three Gophers will compete with Team USA at the Women’s World Championships from March 30 to April 6 in Nova Scotia.

The 2004 World Championships will be the fourth trip for Darwitz and Wendell and the first for Stephens.