Women’s hockey to face St. Cloud

Minnesota’s top-ranked women’s hockey team is in a fairly good position. The Gophers are tied for first in the WCHA with two series sweeps against conference opponents, have outscored opponents 16-4 so far this year and are perfect on the penalty kill.

This weekend, the Gophers welcome St. Cloud State to Minneapolis; they are not the strongest of the Gophers’ conference foes. But there is always room for the Gophers to improve.

“We have to focus on ourselves and what we need to be doing,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “We want to play at a high level every weekend to the best of our abilities.”

This week in practice the Gophers focused on some specific aspects of their play.

“Tighten up our penalty kill a bit more,” Halldorson said. “We’ve been effective, but we could be even better at shutting the other team down.”

The Gophers worked on improving their positions and rotating on the penalty kill to prevent scoring opportunities.

Last weekend, Wisconsin clogged the middle of the zone on defense to neutralize the Gophers’ speed and skill. Halldorson indicated that the team hopes to get the puck deep and down low in the offensive zone to take advantage of the team’s strengths.

On the defensive side, Minnesota wants to play a little bit more aggressive hockey.

“We’re working on stepping up and being more into the play and initiating the play instead of just sitting back and letting them shoot,” sophomore defender Ashley Albrecht said. “And we’re trying to get stronger and pinning, which is really helping our defense.”

Junior goaltender Jody Horak is tops in the WCHA with a 1.00 goals against average.

The Huskies have a tough job this weekend opening their conference season on the road against Minnesota. The Gophers have dominated the Huskies in the past. Minnesota holds a 17-1 series record against St. Cloud State. Since suffering their only defeat to the Huskies in 2001, the Gophers have outscored St. Cloud State 55-9 in the last eight games between the two teams. The Gophers have shut out the Huskies four times, and scored 10 goals six times.

In their careers, Minnesota forwards La Toya Clarke, Krissy Wendell, Kelly Stephens and Natalie Darwitz each scored more points against St. Cloud State than any other team.

Minnesota is happy to be back at the friendly confines of Ridder Arena.

“I love playing at home,” Clarke said. “It’ll be fun.”

St. Cloud State finished sixth in the WCHA last season with a 5-19-0 mark in conference play and an 11-23-0 record overall. The Huskies were outscored 149-75 last season, and have been outscored 16-12 in four games this year.

This season St. Cloud State is 2-2 after sweeping North Dakota last weekend.