Women’s hockey set for tourney

Monica Wright

Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson is feeling a little worried. It’s only natural — the first ever WCHA women’s hockey tournament begins today.
The tournament, made up of the seven WCHA teams, comes down to one winner which will head to Boston March 24-25 for the AWCHA championship and the right to call themselves the best team in the country.
But that’s not the problem Halldorson is concerned about right now.
The biggest obstacle standing between the Gophers and the championship isn’t a team: it’s the ice rink.
The Gophers — used to practicing and playing at the 200-foot-long and 100-foot-wide Mariucci Arena — have to adjust to the smaller 200×85 dimensions of the Bloomington Ice Gardens in Bloomington, Minn.
“We are going to have to quickly get used to the rink,” junior wing Sarma Pone said. “I think we’ll have some trouble with that.”
The second-ranked Gophers hope to adjust in time to face seventh-ranked Minnesota State on Thursday at noon in order to advance to Friday’s final four.
The Gophers’ 9-0-0 record against Minnesota State might be a little deceptive. The Mavericks came close to pulling off an upset last weekend when they lost to WCHAregular-season champ Minnesota-Duluth in a close 3-1 game.
Minnesota State coach Todd Carroll has seen the confidence of his team rise as a result of that game.
“Going into this game Minnesota is heavily favored,” Carroll said. “But I feel good about how we’ve been playing, and I think we’re ready and really want this win.”
Halldorson prefers to take the tournament one day at a time.
“I can’t deny that we want to play on Saturday, but we can’t overlook any of our opponents.”

##5 Ohio State vs. ##4 St. Cloud
Thursday’s 8 p.m. match will be the third consecutive game these teams have played against each other. Last weekend ended in a 2-2 tie and a 2-0 win for St. Cloud State, edging them one point ahead of the Buckeyes for fourth place despite matching 6-15-3 WCHA records.
What the rankings don’t tell: The Buckeyes come into the tournament known as the “giant killer,” after being the first team to put a blemish on Duluth’s record this season with a 1-1 tie.
Such hockey lore doesn’t seem to bother the Huskies, whose goalie Laura Gieselman boasts 60 saves during their last matchup. Teammates Fiona McLeod and Jennifer Swanson pose a double threat as team-scoring leaders with 28 points apiece.

##3 Wisconsin vs.##6 Bemidji State
The Beavers have had a week off to prepare for the Badgers and to get over 6-0 and 10-1 beatings delivered by Duluth two weeks ago.
Though Wisconsin holds a 4-0-0 record when playing Bemidji, Badgers coach Julie Sasner thinks her team is up for a fight.
“Our whole approach this season has been to take one game at a time,” Sasner said. “Bemidji has some players that can really score, and they’re an aggressive, opportunistic team with good defense.”
The key to the Beavers defense is goalie Bre Dedrickson, who holds two WCHA player of the week honors and a .891 save percentage in 24 games.
But Dedrickson will be put to the test against the Badgers. Wisconsin is the only team outside of Minnesota and Duluth with scorers ranked in the top 10 nationally.

##1 Minnesota-Duluth
Being the top-ranked team in the WCHA has its advantages — one of them being a bye in the first round of the tournament. But coach Shannon Miller doesn’t see it that way.
“To us as a first-year team, we’re the underdogs even though we are the first-ranked team,” Miller said. “There’s some good teams in the league, and not for one second do I think it will be light and easy for us.”
The Bulldogs have a formidable record behind them. Nationally, they are first in power-play goals, second in scoring and third in penalty minutes. They have only allowed 53 goals this season.
Despite such gaudy statistics, Minnesota’s Pone and her teammates are hoping the tournament comes down to a rematch with their biggest rival.
“Meeting Duluth in the finals would make this an awesome tournament,” she said.

Monica Wright covers women’s hockey for the Daily and welcomes comments at [email protected]