No. 2 Minn. ready for St. Cloud State series

The Gophers host the Huskies Friday night at Ridder Arena.

by John Hageman

Losing in the final weeks of the season to one of your biggest rivals is something no team wants to go through, but for the No. 2 Minnesota womenâÄôs hockey team, it may serve as a necessary learning experience. The Gophers (21-5-4 overall, 17-4-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) spent only a brief amount of time as the top-ranked team after being swept in Duluth last weekend. With the sweep, the Bulldogs moved into within three points of Minnesota in the WCHA standings with only four games left in the regular season . Minnesota-Duluth also moved up the poll from No. 5 to sharing the 2nd spot with the Gophers. âÄúWe wanted to go up there and come away with at least one win on the weekend,âÄù Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said. âÄúA loss is a loss and nobody ever enjoys them no matter who theyâÄôre to.âÄù Sophomore defender Kelly Seeler said the weekend served as somewhat of a wake-up call for the team. âÄúI think we got very comfortable where we were,âÄù Seeler said. âÄúThen again, itâÄôs never fun to lose, but weâÄôre glad it happened this part of the season instead of when it matters later in the [postseason].âÄù The Gophers may have lost a little more than two games and a few points in the standings when leading scorer Emily West was knocked out of SaturdayâÄôs game with a concussion. Her condition is day-to-day. West, a junior , took a hit that caused a small melee and lit a fire under the Gophers. âÄúWe lost our composure and just started taking penalties that were unnecessary in my opinion,âÄù Frost said. âÄú[We] really took the focus away from our team âÄî and trying to come back in the hockey game âÄî and tried to make a statement in anger and frustration.âÄù But while he was not happy with the way his team responded, Frost said the experience will serve as a good learning tool for the team. The Gophers will look to get back on track this weekend against St. Cloud State (12-12-6, 9-11-4), a team they dominated by a combined score of 11-0 in October. Freshman goalie Noora Räty had a big game to open the series, stopping 32 shots in the first game. The next day, sophomore Alyssa Grogan did her part by stopping 21 shots en route to a 7-0 shutout. With Räty in Vancouver for the Olympics, the Gophers have had to rely on veteran goalies, with Grogan and junior Jenny Lura splitting starts last weekend. Saturday was LuraâÄôs first start since Feb. 28, 2009. Frost said he has not determined who will be in goal this weekend, but his players are confident in both keepers. âÄúIt doesnâÄôt really change our mentality. We know we have to do the same things we do game in and game out,âÄù senior forward Jaimie Horton said. While the Gophers look to hang on to their hopes of a WCHA regular season championship, St. Cloud hopes to move up a spot to gain home- ice advantage in the first round of the conference playoffs. Currently, the Huskies sit in fifth place in the conference, just one point behind Bemidji State, and two points behind third-place Wisconsin . âÄúItâÄôs tough to play anyone at this point in the season because everyone is fighting for points,âÄù Frost said. âÄúWeâÄôre avoiding talking about championships and things like that. ItâÄôs more about just playing our best hockey and doing everything we can do to win games.âÄù And while the losses hurt the Gophers, Frost said there is still an opportunity for the team to peak at the right time to make a run in the postseason. âÄúSometimes in hockey, the other team scores more than you, regardless of how well you play,âÄù Frost said. âÄúTo me, thereâÄôs no reason to panic.âÄù FridayâÄôs game will begin at 7:07 p.m. Ridder Arena, and the series will wrap up with the team visiting St. Cloud Saturday at 2:07 p.m.