Women’s hockey faces WCHA rival

Paul Markgraff

The Gophers women’s hockey team has a chance to answer an important question this weekend when they face Duluth: Who’s the best team in the WCHA-Women’s League?
Some strange times are upon the Gophers. They are ranked fourth in the nation and the Bulldogs are ranked seventh. But in the WCHA the Gophers are ranked second and the Bulldogs are ranked first.
Surprising? Well, the Bulldogs rank better because they’ve played only conference games, and they’ve won all 10.
While the Gophers are also undefeated in the WCHA, they have fallen to high-powered East Coast teams three times this season. The Bulldogs have yet to be tested by any top-ranked competition.
Friday and Saturday nights’ 7 p.m. games at Mariucci Arena mark a pair of firsts. It will be Duluth’s first matchup with tough competition, and the first time these two teams have ever played each other — a theme that’s more and more common as the WCHA-Women’s League continues its first year.
“It’s an opportunity for us to see how we stack up against each other,” said Gophers coach Laura Halldorson. “We really have to focus on playing our best the whole game.”
But some of the players have seen each other before. Two of the Bulldogs played for the Gophers last year. Jenny Schmidgall and Brittny Ralph, the two former Gophers, will have a lot of pressure on their shoulders to perform well.
Schmidgall, one of last season’s scoring stars, has been firing goals through defenses with her usual prowess.
She leads the WCHA in points, goals and assists with 17 goals and 28 assists, a 4.5 points per game average. Ralph on the other hand was one of the Gophers’ better defensive players last year.
The duo left the team because they were not happy with the Gophers.
Thanks in part to the transfers, the Bulldogs stack up nicely against the Gophers in scoring capabilities.
Duluth holds the top four scoring positions in the WCHA. Schmidgall, Maria Rooth, Hanne Sikio and Erika Holst round out the leaderboard, respectively.
“They look big and strong; they have some really good forwards,” said Halldorson. “There’s no doubt they can create offense.”
In all likelihood, this series is going to be a close one. Both teams have powerful offenses and competent defenses. This may be the first real test for the undefeated Bulldogs.
And while the Gophers have played a number of times against high-powered East Coast teams, this will be the first conference game that is likely to give them some trouble.
So who is the best team in the WCHA? We’re about to find out.

Paul Markgraff covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]