Women pick up pace over Badgers

Paul Markgraff

When a team struggles early, winning doesn’t come easy.
In their weekend sweep of Wisconsin, the Gophers women’s hockey team found themselves struggling at first, but dominating later — a turnaround which doesn’t often take place.
Minnesota found itself in that exact position when the Badgers came out playing hard this weekend, but the Gophers managed to win 7-4 Friday and 5-0 Saturday.
“They have some good talent,” said Gophers coach Laura Halldorson before facing the Badgers for the first time in team history. “My feeling is that they are a really strong defensive team.”
Halldorson said she wanted her high-scoring team to get loose from Wisconsin and operate so the Badgers couldn’t slow Minnesota (9-3, 6-0 WCHA) down.
And after being held to a 3-3 tie through the first two periods Friday night, the Gophers attained those goals for the rest of the weekend and showed the Badgers why they are the No. 3 team in the nation.
Junior wing Kris Scholz was happier with the Gophers’ performance Saturday night than Friday night.
“I think we controlled the game pretty well,” she said of Saturday’s game. “We controlled the tempo.”
The Gophers controlled more than the tempo Saturday. Minnesota outshot the Badgers 31-13 and managed to score on three-of-four power plays. Gophers goaltender Crystal Nicholas saved 13 shots to earn her eighth career shutout and her second win of the season in as many starts.
“Crystal played very well,” said Scholz. “Overall, we played a lot better (than Friday night).”
On Friday night, the Gophers had no such luck dominating the Badgers. Minnesota came out slow and allowed Wisconsin to dictate the rate of play. According to Halldorson, Minnesota didn’t spread out like they did on Saturday and Wisconsin was all over them.
Because the Badgers came out strong Friday and played good defense through two periods, Wisconsin kept the Gophers in check.
The two teams traded goals for the first two periods. The Badgers would score, then Minnesota.
Junior wing Ambria Thomas helped Minnesota stay in the game, scoring two of those first three crucial goals.
Then the dam broke and the Gophers took their first lead in impressive fashion. Sophomore center Tracy Engstrom put the Gophers on top 3:06 into the third period. Thomas then completed her hat trick six seconds later to put the Gophers up by two, snaring a Minnesota record for shortest time between goals.
“On Friday, we came out a little flat,” said Halldorson. “Overall, our depth and experience paid off.”
The Gophers will be back on the ice against Minnesota State- Mankato, Tuesday night in another WCHA-Women’s League matchup at Mariucci Arena.

Paul Markgraff covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]