Team returns to action with NCAA record on the line

The Gophers have won 20 straight games, one short of an NCAA Division I record.

Betsy Helfand

Things are looking pretty good for the Gophers women’s hockey team.

No. 1 Minnesota is undefeated, has no glaring weaknesses and has dominated most of its opponents.

It’s a position seven other WCHA teams would love to be in.

The Gophers had last weekend off because of the Four Nations Cup, an annual international tournament. Head coach Brad Frost said it was an opportunity for the players to “catch their breath and relax a little bit.”

But Minnesota didn’t succumb to complacency in its off-week.

“Coach Frost had made it very noted to us to make sure that we were working on something,” junior captain Bethany Brausen said, “whether that be go 20 minutes before or after [practice] and shoot pucks or working on picking the puck off the board — just the little detailed work.”

The team held its annual intrasquad 3-on-3 tournament last week, and Brausen said they had a lot of fun with it.

But now it’s back to work.

The Gophers will resume their schedule this weekend against Minnesota State-Mankato, and freshman forward Hannah Brandt said the team’s going to try to keep doing what it’s been doing.

Through 12 games, almost everything has worked for the Gophers, who have outscored opponents 72-7.

Their power-play unit is operating at a 39 percent clip, the penalty kill unit has allowed only two goals in 50 chances, and goalie Noora Räty has a 0.68 goals-against average.

“We’ve had statistically as good a season as far as we could have,” Brausen said.

Frost said he is “extremely pleased” with the way his team has been playing.

“It’s more than a start now — it’s a pretty good body of work,” Frost said. “I [think] we’ve been playing at a pretty high level.”

Frost said his players push each other to get better, and he thought it was evident when they play.

Brandt, who currently leads the team in points, said there is always room for improvement. She said she is going to work on her defensive-zone coverage.

“I think our whole team can continue to work on that even though we’ve obviously done a great job with that,” she said. “We can always get better at that.”

She also mentioned that though the team hasn’t “lacked in scoring goals,” it could score more.

The Gophers average 6.0 goals per game, which is more than a goal higher than the next-highest scoring team in the country.

MSU-Mankato is seventh in the WCHA in scoring defense, allowing 2.75 goals per game.

“If we can get two wins, that’s all we’re really looking for,” Brandt said. “It doesn’t really matter what the score is.”

Frost said he thought MSU-Mankato is “one of the better teams in the league” even though it has stumbled a bit lately.

The Mavericks are 4-6-2 (2-4-2 WCHA) and are on a four-game losing streak. They were most recently swept by Wisconsin.

Minnesota has historically dominated MSU-Mankato, and it won all four games against the Mavericks last season.

The Gophers are currently on a 20-game winning streak, which dates back to last season. With a sweep, the Gophers would break Harvard’s 21-game winning streak from 2008 and set an NCAA Division I record.