This weekend, Minnesota’s top-ranked women’s hockey team heads south down on Highway 169 to face Minnesota State-Mankato for a two-game set Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
The Gophers have dominated the series, holding a perfect 22-0-0 record against the Mavericks. Last season, Minnesota State-Mankato finished last in the WCHA with a record of 3-18-3 in conference play. But this season, the Mavericks (7-3, 4-2) have turned things around and are tied for third in the WCHA.
“They’ve got to be considered one of the most improved teams in the country based on the results so far,” Gophers coach Laura Halldorson said. “Our players are very aware that this Minnesota State team is different and better than the ones we’ve faced in the past.”
The play of goalie Shari Vogt has helped spark the turnaround for Minnesota State.
“The biggest factor, and their biggest strength, is their goaltending,” Minnesota assistant coach Brad Frost said. “Shari Vogt is one of the top goalies in the WCHA, as well as the country.”
A returning first-team All-WCHA goalie, Vogt has a .929 save percentage stopping 290 shots on goal this season. She ranks second in the WCHA in save percentage.
Facing such a technical goalie, the Gophers will have to work hard to put the puck in the net.
“We have to do things like create screens and go after rebounds,” Halldorson said. “We have to try to find ways to score because if she sees the puck she’s very good at making that first save.”
This season, especially, the Mavericks are a tough team anchored by a strong net minder.
“This year, more than other years, she’s got more support in front of her and that makes that team dangerous,” Halldorson said. “When you have a goalie of that caliber anything can happen and now Minnesota State has some goal scorers that makes them a real challenge for us to play.”
But Minnesota knows that it will take more than just Vogt for the Mavericks to pull off an upset this weekend.
“Shari can’t just play against us by herself,” senior co-captain LaToya Clarke said. “If it’s her against us, we’ll win.”
The Gophers have two strong goaltenders to shoot on in practice.
“One way that our forwards get better is to face solid goaltending every day,” Halldorson said. “We have two really good goalies, so that helps us.”
Junior Jody Horak leads the WCHA in goals against average (1.43), save percentage (.932) and winning percentage (1.000). Horak earned first-team All-WCHA honors the past two seasons.
Fellow junior Brenda Reinen also backstops for the Gophers.
Goals will be hard to come by for both the Gophers and the Mavericks this weekend, and so will victories.
“The past means nothing,” Gophers assistant coach Joel Johnson said. “Our players and our coaching staff know that it’s going to be a battle.”
Gophers ink one more
Halldorson announced that forward Liz Palkie has signed a national letter of intent and will play for Minnesota next season.
Palkie, a native of Carleton, Minn., was a member of the Class AA consolation championship team her sophomore season earning her first of two all-tournament honors. Last season, she earned first-team all-conference honors and all-area honors for the second straight year.