Sweep of Mavericks keeps Minnesota unbeaten, untested

by Bridget Haeg

MANKATO, Minn. – Facing what it deemed its toughest opponent of the season so far, Minnesota’s women’s hockey team used this weekend’s series against Minnesota State-Mankato to prove it’s as good as its record implies.

And it went over well, as the top-ranked Gophers (8-0-0, 8-0-0 WCHA) swept the Mavericks (0-5-1, 0-5-1) with victories of

6-1 Friday and 6-0 Saturday at All Seasons Arena.

“We knew coming in that it was going to be a character check,” junior forward Natalie Darwitz said. “Are we going to fall apart, or are we going to rise to the occasion?”

It seemed to have been the latter, as Minnesota’s top line of senior Kelly Stephens, junior Krissy Wendell and Darwitz notched 18 points in the two games by itself.

Wendell scored a hat trick with one assist Friday, and Darwitz followed with four goals and an assist of her own Saturday.

Stephens complemented Wendell’s and Darwitz’s eight points each with two assists of her own.

But while this top line has dominated with 72 points in eight games, it doesn’t mean the rest of the team sits back and watches.

Wendell said the other lines are getting their chances to score but just aren’t getting bounces.

“(They are) the only reason we’re winning the way we’re winning,” Wendell said.

Darwitz expressed similar sentiments and said her line tries to inspire the team to work hard.

“We want to do well ourselves,” she said. “And if the other lines can feed off our energy, that makes us better.”

Solid goaltending helped as well, as senior Jody Horak allowed just her second goal of the season Friday. Senior Brenda Reinen took over between the pipes Saturday, posting a shutout with 15 saves.

The Gophers seem to have their offense and goaltending figured out. But they continue their adjustment to the stricter penalty-calling instituted by the NCAA this season.

The Gophers totaled 21 penalties in the series – a tally about even with their average from their previous series.

Despite the many penalties, Minnesota has proved successful in both its penalty kill and power play.

The Gophers scored five power-play goals and five short-handed goals in the series.

“It’s working out to our advantage so far,” Darwitz said. “Either way, we want to stay out of the box as much as we can.”

With a barrage of offense, the issue of overconfidence arises.

But this is an aspect of the team coach Laura Halldorson said she is guarding against, but not worried about.

“We know that we have some tough games coming up and a really tough stretch,” Halldorson said. “So I don’t think they’re going to take anything for granted.”

Let the character check continue.