No. 1 women’s hockey team splits

After winning Saturday, the Gophers were defeated by Mankato on Sunday at the last moment.

by Noah Seligman

Minnesota’s top-ranked women’s hockey team had a near-perfect record against Minnesota State-Mankato entering Sunday’s contest.

The Gophers were 24-0-1 all-time against the Mavericks, but that all changed with 14.4 seconds left in overtime.

Mankato freshman defender Richelle St. Croix put home a low, one-time blast to give the visiting Mavericks a 3-2 victory over their northern rival.

It was Minnesota’s first home defeat since Dec. 1, 2002, to Minnesota-Duluth.

“Everyone was crowded in front of the net and I knew there was traffic, so it was hard for the goalie to see,” St. Croix said. “I just let it rip.”

Mankato (13-7-3, 6-5-3) used the same play to win an overtime game against Providence earlier this year.

“We set up on the faceoff, and the ‘D’ switched sides, and we drew it back and got a nice pass across from the ‘D,’ ” St. Croix said. “It worked perfectly.”

For Minnesota (17-2-1, 11-2-1) it was less than a happy ending to a weekend that had started out well.

The Gophers put home three first-period goals Saturday, and hung on to win 3-2.

After 20 minutes of play Sunday, the game was deadlocked at zero and it looked as if defense would rule the day.

But the second stanza featured a barrage of offense, as each team put two goals on the board.

“I saw two teams really playing well offensively and moving the puck and getting to the open ice,” Mankato coach Jeff Vizenor said. “Minnesota is just so good at moving the puck and we got some good shots.”

The Gophers opened the scoring at 4:47 of the period when senior co-captain La Toya Clarke tipped in a shot by sophomore forward Krissy Wendell.

Wendell extended her scoring streak to 11 games after tallying a goal and an assist in Saturday’s win.

Mankato responded less than a minute later when forward Autumn Conway won a faceoff and dropped the puck to linemate Kearstin Solberg who lit the lamp.

The Gophers offered a rebuttal at 6:25 of the period when junior forward Kelly Stephens received a centering feed from Wendell and slipped the puck through the five-hole of Mankato goaltender Shari Vogt.

But the Mavericks would not be deterred and evened the score at 10:01 of the second period.

Defender Amber Sharratt put home a wrist shot off a feed from forward Kate Hainrich.

“I give Minnesota State credit because they answered each time we scored,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “We certainly had our chances throughout the game including overtime and it didn’t go in for us.”

Junior forward Noelle Sutton and freshman forward Andrea Nichols had scoring opportunities for the Gophers on the power play in the second period, but to no avail.

Freshman defender Danielle Ashley hit the post with a blast from inside the blue line in the third period, and Clarke was denied twice on the doorstep by Vogt.

In the extra session, freshman forward Becky Wacker missed a close-range attempt when Vogt was out of position.

For the game, Minnesota took a record 85 shots, while limiting Mankato to 39.

The Gophers were 1-8 on the power play and successfully killed off all five of the Mavericks’ opportunities with an extra skater, including a 40-second, 5-on-3 chance for Mankato in the third period.

“I’m disappointed; I think each player can expect more from themselves,” Stephens said. “We made some mistakes that aren’t acceptable this time of year. Especially in the second half, we need to be improving every game, and not being stagnant and staying at the same place or being comfortable in any sense.”

The setback for the Gophers serves as a wake-up call, and will test the team’s toughness.

“I think it should leave a good sting and hopefully, instead of just crumbling and falling apart, our team is going to respond and come back – which I expect from every player in that locker room,” Stephens said. “Adversity makes you stronger, and you just have to bounce back.”