Defense, clutch play fuels women’s hockey run

by Aaron Blake

When asked last month about how dominant her team had been during its then-18-game unbeaten streak, Minnesota women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson laughed.

“Or how undominant?” Halldorson joked. “I don’t really feel like we’ve dominated. We’ve found ways to win close games.”

The Gophers (23-2-5, 16-1-3 WCHA) have now ran off 24 consecutive games without a loss and are the unanimous No. 1 in the country for the first time this season.

But Halldorson maintains her take on the team’s dominance.

It’s likely because one-third of the time she coaches her team into overtime. In addition, of the 30 games Minnesota has played, 17 have been decided by one goal or ended in a tie. The Gophers overtime record stands at 5-0-5.

“The fact that we haven’t lost in overtime all year tells you that mentally we’re pretty strong,” Halldorson said. “We have a
competitive group and (the players) find ways to win games.”

After distancing themselves from this trend for the past few weeks, with cushioned wins over Findlay (Ohio) and Minnesota State, Mankato, the Gophers found themselves a few shots away from losing again at then-No. 8 Ohio State last weekend.

Junior defender Ronda Curtin notched her ninth goal of the season with 51 seconds remaining in the extra period last Saturday. Curtin’s tally gave Minnesota a 2-1 victory.

Sophomore third-liner Jerilyn Glenn often finds herself right in the middle of dramatic overtime victories. In addition to assisting on Curtin’s goal against the Buckeyes, Glenn scored an emotional one herself at Wisconsin on Dec. 1.

Catching a lucky bounce and
getting behind Badger defenders, Glenn beat goaltender Jackie MacMillan one-on-one with 45 seconds remaining in the extra period.

The visiting locker room at Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton, Wisc., was jumping with excitement after the penalty- and replay-ridden marathon.

“The feeling after both (the Wisconsin and Ohio State) games was pretty much the same,” Glenn said. “Everyone came off the bench really excited and there was a huge gathering at center ice. It was like what happened in Wisconsin.”

The Gophers have stepped up on the defensive end of late in order to create distance between themselves and their opponents. Minnesota has won its last eight games by a combined margin of 31-4, posting four shutouts and never allowing more than one goal.

Though routs over weaker Findlay and Minnesota State help pad such statistics, the Gophers have been extremely impressive in sweeps of both then-No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth and the Buckeyes.

Minnesota defeated the Bulldogs four weeks ago, holding the top-ranked offensive unit in the WCHA to a lone goal. Last Friday, the Gophers blanked Ohio State 5-0.

Minnesota is also on a nine-game winning streak, dating back one game before the Duluth series. In that game, facing Bemidji State, La Toya Clarke scored the game-winner in overtime.

“I definitely think this is the most clutch team I’ve ever been on,” Clarke said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever been a part of in my hockey career.

“We don’t have that much in the way of numbers, but within those numbers we have great depth.”

Aaron Blake covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]