Gophers look to perfect nationally prominent special teams vs. Buckeyes

Bridget Haeg

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team has realized something significant about its dominant special teams: Opponents are catching on to it.

Though the top-ranked Gophers (8-0-0, 8-0-0 WCHA) hold a 39.6 power-play conversion percentage (21 goals in 53 chances), they have found other teams starting to decipher this key part of their game.

And so, playing at Ridder Arena for only the second time in five series this season, the Gophers will look to perfect their special teams play against Ohio State (5-3-0, 5-3-0 WCHA) on at 1:05 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

“Slowly, it is looking like teams are checking their video,” freshman forward Bobbi Ross said. “They’re taking a lot more away from us than at the beginning.”

Minnesota’s 95.2 percent mark on the penalty kill ranks second in the nation. But the team continues to focus on improving this in preparation for a more offensive-minded opponent in the Buckeyes.

Ohio State has scored 22 goals in eight games this season.

“They are going to have a more offensive firepower than the teams we’ve played so far,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “They have a real persistent power play.”

The Buckeyes’ power play might prove to rival that of Minnesota.

Their power-play percentage of 19.2 ranks ninth in the nation, as they have scored on 10 of 52 chances.

Ohio State senior forward Jeni Creary leads the team with five power-play goals in eight games.

On their regular shifts, the Gophers look solid, with junior forwards Natalie Darwitz (28 points in eight games) and Krissy Wendell (27 points in eight games) one-two the nation in scoring.

The WCHA named Darwitz its offensive player of the week for her eight points in last weekend’s sweep of Minnesota State-Mankato.

After outscoring the Mavericks 12-1 in the two games, the team looks to continue its offensive dominance.

“We came out pretty strong,” senior forward Stacy Troumbly said. “We were happy with how we performed and we just want to build on that.”

On the other end of the ice, Minnesota’s defense heads into this series allowing an average of 17.3 shots per game. Only four goals have gotten past the blueliners this season.

Minnesota holds a 19-3-1 overall record over the Buckeyes, beating them 5-1 in last season’s WCHA Final Five semifinal. But Ohio State also skated to a 1-1 overtime tie with the Gophers during the 2003-04 regular season.

Ohio State has found some success in conference play so far this season, splitting its series with fifth-ranked Wisconsin with an Oct. 23 upset.

“We know that they are capable of giving us a battle,” Halldorson said. “We have to be ready, we have to play well.”