Not-so-special teams resulting in surprising downturn at the hockey rink

by Zach Eisendrath

As the season has progressed, Minnesota’s women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson has asked her team to play with more consistency.

At times, Halldorson said, she has seen lapses on game-to-game and period-to-period bases.

One of Halldorson’s main concerns early on has been special teams play.

Thus far, the Gophers have converted on 18 percent (16 of 89) of their power-play opportunities ” down from 31 percent last season ” and have killed off their opponents power-play chances 84.7 percent of the time (83 of 98) ” down from 89.1 percent from last year’s national championship campaign.

After last weekend’s sweep of North Dakota, Halldorson had mixed feelings about how her special teams units faired.

“I think we did a nice job killing penalties this weekend,” Halldorson said. “But still, work needs to be done.”

For the weekend, the Gophers gave up just one goal to the Sioux on a power play, stopping 13 of North Dakota’s 14 power-play opportunities

However, Minnesota had its own special teams’ struggles, going 1-7 on their own power plays.

The Gophers rank fourth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association on the power play and third on the kill.

After a weekend of special teams play senior Krista Johnson deemed “pretty solid,” Johnson said that given time, Minnesota should see even more improvement in the area.

“These are types of things we can keep working on,” she said.

Early indicators

Rule of thumb for Minnesota this season: Take the lead and never look back. The Gophers are undefeated (8-0) when scoring first, and a perfect 11-0 when taking a lead into the final period.

Halldorson said the team’s savvy play at the end of games has allowed it to hold on to the lead.

“This team is used to playing with a lead late in the game,” Halldorson said. “We’re not looking to get a lot of shots; we’re looking to finish off the game.”

Stellar goaltending play down the stretch also has contributed to Minnesota’s success. Minnesota has allowed 14 goals in the first period, 13 in the second but a remarkably low 3 goals in the third.

Offensive overload

All season, sophomore forward’s Erica McKenzie and Bobbi Ross have been anchoring the Gophers’ offensive attack.

McKenzie is fifth in the WCHA in points with 23, second in the conference in goals (14) and leads in shorthanded goals. She is also tied with Duluth freshman standout Michaela Lanlz for most game-winning goals with five.

Ross, the reigning WCHA freshman of the year, ranks 10th in the conference in points with 20, 12 of which are goals. She is second in power-play goals in the WCHA with six and third in the conference with four game-winning scores.

Concerning, however, may be the fact that no other Minnesota player ranks within the top 25 in goals scored. Jenelle Philipczyk ranks 27th in the league and is third on the team with four goals.

Injury update

Junior captain Andrea Nichols was injured late in the first period of the Gophers’ 4-0 win over North Dakota on Friday night. Nichols sat out of Saturday’s game with an undisclosed leg injury.

Halldorson said Nichols status for this weekend’s showdown with Minnesota State-Mankato is still uncertain.

For the season, the 5-foot-2 inch Mountain Iron native has totaled seven points ” two goals and five assists.