Minnesota sweeps North Dakota to maintain seven-point conference lead

The No. 2 Gophers never trailed this weekend, but worry about falling off as the season continues.

Gopher Womens Hockey vs. North Dakota

Ian Larson

Gopher Women’s Hockey vs. North Dakota

by John Hageman

Numbers donâÄôt always tell the whole story, which certainly boded well for the Gophers this weekend at Ridder Arena. The No. 2 Minnesota womenâÄôs hockey team completed back-to-back shutouts over North Dakota, but did not do it in decisive fashion. The Gophers (19-3-4, 15-2-3-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) came into the series without a loss in their history to North Dakota, and proved early how they are capable of dominating the Sioux. Junior Laura May gave the Gophers an early lead with a goal 3:58 into the first period. It was MayâÄôs first goal since Oct. 30 at Wisconsin . The Gophers continued their early intensity, as North Dakota failed to even tally a shot on goal in FridayâÄôs series opener until the 8:31 mark in the first period. The 1-0 lead stayed until sophomore Sarah Erickson added another goal at 8:24 in the third to put the Gophers up 2-0. Erickson was also in the midst of a cold streak and hadnâÄôt scored a goal since Nov. 20. âÄúRight when I got in the box I said, âÄòItâÄôs never felt so good to score a goal after that large slumpâÄô,âÄù Erickson said. Senior Chelsey Jones added an empty-net goal late in the game to put the Sioux away 3-0. Despite the early success Friday in the defensive zone, the Gophers couldnâÄôt maintain their momentum and gave North Dakota some breakaway opportunities. But like usual, freshman Noora Räty was there to clean up the mess and earn the shutout while tallying 18 saves . âÄú[We] had a great start. In the first 10 minutes, I thought we were pretty dominant,âÄù Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said. âÄúIn the second period, I didnâÄôt feel like we played very well at all.âÄù Frost hoped that some intensity from the third period would carry over into SaturdayâÄôs game, but the Sioux proved to be no pushover. The teams were stuck with zeros on the board for nearly the first two periods of the game, until May once again gave the Gophers the first score of the game at 18:16 in the second . May spotted up from the right circle and slapped the puck over North Dakota goalie Jorid DagfinrudâÄôs shoulder. âÄú[She] kind of got the monkey off her back a little bit. May played really well this weekend,âÄù Frost said. Senior Kelli Blankenship added another goal on a rebound attempt at 7:24 in the third, which would be all the Gophers needed, going on to win 2-0. Räty earned the shutout for the second straight night, giving her a nation-leading seven on the season. While RätyâÄôs success has helped the Gophers stay at the top of the WCHA, Frost said it also may be a cause for concern. âÄúIf a couple of those pucks go past Noora, then maybe we start playing better. But because she is making those saves, I think sometimes our team kind of falls into a lull and realizes sheâÄôs going to make the save, which is not always the case,âÄù Frost said. With the sweep, the Gophers still hold a seven-point lead in the WCHA over Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs completed a sweep in Mankato over the Mavericks this weekend. Elsewhere in the conference, Bemidji State and Wisconsin split their series against Ohio State and St. Cloud State, respectively, which puts them both in a tie for third. But even with a comfortable lead in the conference, Frost said his team is doing just enough to win, which may not be enough come postseason time. âÄúIf we continue in this pattern, it will bite us eventually,âÄù Frost said. âÄúThatâÄôs why if we can learn from winning and start getting back to who we are, what weâÄôre about, then weâÄôll be in good shape down the stretch.âÄù Erickson said even though the Gophers came away with four points this weekend, there is still much to be learned. âÄúWe learn from our wins, and we learn from our ties, and we learn from our losses,âÄù Erickson said. âÄúRight now, weâÄôre trying to learn from everything.âÄù The Gophers will be back at Ridder Arena next weekend for a home series against Minnesota-State Mankato .