Trip to Erie could provide Minnesota with tough test

Zach Eisendrath

These days, Minnesota’s women’s hockey team can’t catch a break.

Clearly, the schedule makers have not been kind to the back-to-back defending national champions.

After opening up Western Collegiate Hockey Association play last weekend at Bemidji St., the fourth-ranked Gophers (3-1-0 overall, 2-0 WCHA) head to Erie, Pa., this weekend for a pair of nonconference games against No. 8 Merychurst.

Faceoff is slated for 6 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Saturday at Mercyhurst Ice Center.

The Lakers (3-1-0 overall) will be the third ranked team Minnesota faces in its first five games. The Gophers defeated No. 10 Connecticut and fell to No. 1 St. Lawrence in the season’s first two contests.

There is no time for a breather; coach Laura Halldorson said she expects a physical encounter once again this weekend.

“It’s going to be a tough weekend,” Halldorson said. “We’re playing a team that seems to be very hungry right now.”

Merychurst came within an eyelash of advancing to the Frozen Four last March, but lost to eventual national runner-up Harvard in triple overtime.

Minnesota ended up beating the Crimson 4-3 in the finals to secure its second-straight national championship.

Halldorson said she believes last year’s finish will motivate the Lakers this weekend.

“They came really close last year,” she said. “And I know that when a team comes that close and doesn’t make it, they will return hungry the next year.

“You add that with the fact that we are the defending national champions coming to their rink; we know they are going to be fired up.”

Freshman goaltender Brittony Chartier will be in the net again this weekend for the Gophers. Chartier said the team is ready for another early season challenge.

“These are big games for us this weekend,” Chartier said. “So I think we are looking forward to proving ourselves once again.

“Every time we go out there we have targets on our back, so expect us to play hard for 60 minutes.

“I think if we work hard we have the skill and talent on this team to be successful.”

This weekend will be a good indicator in telling truly how skillful and talented the youthful Gophers are.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Halldorson said.