No. 2 Gophers host BSU sans ‘targets on their backs’

Minnesota fell back to No. 2 this week. They’ll be on the road for three straight weekends after this one.

by Samuel Gordon

MinnesotaâÄôs stint as the top team in the country was brief âÄî one week to be specific.

After splitting a weekend series with Minnesota-Duluth, the Gophers (19-4-1, 13-4-1 WCHA) are back to No. 2 nationally, which they contend may not be a bad thing, for the time being.

Forward Becky Kortum said the subjective rankings have little merit at this point in the season, but conceded that the No. 1 spot affected the teamâÄôs focus.

âÄúWe got focused on the wrong things last weekend,âÄù she said. âÄúRealistically, standings donâÄôt matter; it only matters whoâÄôs No. 1 at the end of the season. We try not to focus on that.âÄù

Freshman forward Rachael Bona said she prefers being No. 2 and âÄúnot having that target on your back.âÄù

Added Bona: âÄúWe can keep fighting for the No. 1 spot.âÄù

The fight will continue when a very good Bemidji State (14-9-2, 8-9-2 WCHA) team comes to Ridder Arena for a weekend series.

The Beavers, who have been in and out of the top 10 all season, are coming off a split with Ohio State. BSU split a home series with Minnesota in late October.

âÄúThat was an early game. We didnâÄôt really know what to expect, but I think weâÄôre coming together more as a team now,âÄù Bona said of the early series.

âÄúWe kind of know what to expect from [Bemidji State]. We know that itâÄôs not just going to be an easy win for us.âÄù

Gophers head coach Brad Frost said he expects a tenacious, hard-working group that plays a full 60 minutes. Frost credited BSUâÄôs defense and said the unit is pivotal to the BeaversâÄô success.

âÄúThey block a lot of shots and their goaltender [Zuzana Tomcikova] is very good,âÄù Frost said. âÄúTheyâÄôre an extremely hardworking team. TheyâÄôre a team that plays very well with the lead.âÄù

Kortum said the early season loss was due in large part to underestimating the Beavers on-ice persistence.

âÄúTheyâÄôre not one of the top-five skilled teams, but they pick up skill because they work so hard,âÄù she said. âÄúThe last time we played them it cost us because we underestimated their hard work. They are a fantastic opponent.âÄù

This time around, Minnesota will get BSU at home, where attendance is up this season. In 14 regular season home games, the Gophers are drawing an average of 1,226 spectators, a 43 percent increase from this time last year.

TheyâÄôve been great at home, too, with a 13-0-1 record thus far. With three straight road series on the horizon, Frost stressed the importance of defending home ice.

âÄúAs with any home series, we want to take care of business here,âÄù he said. âÄúBeing in front of our fans at the friendly confines here, we definitely want to be on our best.âÄù