Old and new alike contribute to sweep of North Dakota

Bridget Haeg

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Something about playing North Dakota works for Minnesota senior forward Kelly Stephens, as her only two collegiate hat tricks have come against the Sioux.

She just doesn’t know what, she said.

“I think every game you just try and do the same thing. Maybe, coincidentally, luck finds its way here for me,” Stephens said.

Whatever it is, it works.

Led by Stephens’ three goals, the Gophers completed a sweep of the Sioux with a 7-1 win Saturday night after an 8-0 Friday night drubbing.

The two teams opened the second game of the WCHA season in front of an announced crowd of 1,325 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. North Dakota was playing in its first ever WCHA series.

Coming off Friday night’s rout, the Gophers started strong in the opening period Saturday, with senior forward Krissy Wendell netting two goals and Stephens and freshman Jenelle Philipczyk each scoring one.

The offensive outburst forced Sioux starting goaltender Margaret-Ann Hinkley out of the game, and the Gophers went on to face goalie Amber Hasbargen.

Though the Sioux held the Gophers to only two goals in the second, Minnesota dominated until 4:59 into the third, when Stephens captured her hat trick and coach Laura Halldorson rested the top line of Stephens, Wendell and Darwitz.

With this line of Olympic hopefuls on the bench, the tone of the game changed.

The Sioux outshot the Gophers 14-8 in the third, allowing North Dakota freshman Cami Wooster to score the team’s first goal of the series.

“I do think that when our top line came out in the game, the game changed,” Halldorson said. “And I do think that it’s a good reminder for us that we need everybody producing.”

The Gophers goalies looked solid throughout the weekend, allowing only Wooster’s power-play goal 13:09 into the final period of the second game.

Senior goaltender Jody Horak posted 20 saves Friday night, giving way to senior Brenda Reinen’s 30 saves Saturday.

“I thought (Reinen) had a good game. We had some breakdowns and didn’t make it easy on her,” Halldorson said.

They did help her, however, with their power play, converting four of seven Friday night and four of five Saturday.

Junior forward Natalie Darwitz, who had a power-play goal in the second Friday night that opened the gates for five more Gophers goals, helped the team prove it can defend last season’s ownership of the nation’s best power-play unit.

This stat might have added a little frustration for the Sioux.

“(Saturday) we played a really good game Ö We fought and we never gave up,” said junior forward Liz Funk, North Dakota’s returning leading scorer. “If it wasn’t for power-play Ö we would have had that team to like a 2-1 lead.”

When playing a skater short themselves, however, the Gophers said they realize there’s room for improvement.

“There were a lot of penalties in both games that gave us a lot of work on our special teams,” Stephens said. “We can definitely work more on (our penalty kill and our defense).”

Halldorson tried to mix up the defensive duos, pairing experienced with inexperienced. But she cited a need to improve puck handling and decision making.

“I just think that it makes it a little choppy when there’s so much special teams,” Halldorson said.

“We know we have things to work on at defense.”

The freshman class showed presence on the ice this weekend in its collegiate debut. But Halldorson said she saw differences in its performance from Friday to Saturday, with Friday being the better of the two.

Freshman Erica McKenzie scored two goals Friday and added an assist Saturday. Philipczyk, coming off a two-assist night Friday, added a goal in the second game. Bobbi Ross totaled four assists in the series. And Liz Palkie had an assist Friday as well.

As it did for Stephens, something clicked for the freshmen, and the defending national champions got themselves two games closer to a possible repeat.