Minnesota hosts Mankato for WCHA first round at Ridder

by Zach Eisendrath

For Minnesota’s women’s hockey team, being the No. 2 seed in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association tournament should make for an easy first-round series against the second-worst team in the conference.

But Minnesota State (11-19-4, 8-17-3 WCHA) isn’t just any No. 7 seed. The fourth-ranked Gophers will host the in-state rival Mavericks at 6 tonight and at 4 p.m. Saturday at Ridder Arena. A decisive third game will be played at 4 p.m. Sunday, if necessary.

“The seeding means absolutely nothing,” sophomore Bobbi Ross said. “No matter what seed you are, you have to win two games to move on.

Minnesota (24-9-1, 19-8-1 WCHA) is 3-0-1 against Minnesota State in four meetings this year, but with three of the games going into overtime.

“In a way,” coach Laura Halldorson said, “it’s good for us because we know we have to play some of our best hockey to come out on top.”

Since the teams last met Feb. 4 and 5, they have headed in different directions. The Gophers have won five of their past six, while the Mavericks have gone winless (0-5-1).

Halldorson said last month’s meeting has jump-started the Gophers.

“I think for us it was a huge weekend in terms of gaining confidence, finding ways to win close games,” she said.

Ross agreed that the team is as confident as it has been all season.

“I feel like we have good momentum going on right now, Ross said. “There is just a confidence about us, knowing that we can overcome a lot of things that are thrown at us.”

Halldorson said being able to put the puck past the Mavericks’ goalie tandem of Britni Kehler and Laura Brennan could determine the outcome.

“I think we’re going to have to find ways to score against this team because they are strong defensively,” she said. “Hopefully our special team plays well because it could boil down to who kills penalties and who converts on the power play.”

Ross agreed with her coach.

“We’re going to have to find a way to beat their goaltender,” Ross said. “That’s been one thing that’s kept our games really close it seems.

“We’ve fired a lot of shots and their goalies have found a way to stop it. We’re going to have to bury our chances and do what we can to get that puck past the goalie,” she said.

Halldorson said she maintains that Minnesota State isn’t as bad as its record shows.

“Their record is a little bit deceiving,” Halldorson said. “I still think they are a very good team.”