Gophers face tough stretch

In the next three weeks, Minnesota’s women’s hockey team plays three top WCHA teams.

Noah Seligman

Minnesota’s second-ranked women’s hockey team earned a series split over the weekend against top-ranked Dartmouth, and the reward was a first-place tie in the WCHA.

Wisconsin (17-4-3, 13-4-1 WCHA) swept Minnesota State-Mankato (13-9-3, 6-7-3) to earn four conference points and a share of the lead.

Minnesota (20-3-1, 13-2-1) and Wisconsin are tied atop the conference with 27 points each.

Close behind are Minnesota-Duluth (13-9-2, 9-6-1) and Ohio State (13-9-2, 9-8-1) with 19 points apiece, locked in a dead heat for third place.

“I think what we’re seeing this year is really anybody can win on any given day,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “It can boil down to a bounce of the puck, a great save or just a little extra effort on somebody’s part.”

With such an even conference, teams have to concentrate on the task immediately at hand.

“We’ve learned that you can’t look ahead; you have to be ready to battle,” Ohio State coach Jackie Barto said. “Every game is exciting and every game is competitive.”

The Gophers have a rough road ahead as they host the Badgers this weekend in a battle for supremacy in the conference. Minnesota then visits Columbus, Ohio, to take on the Buckeyes on Feb. 20-21 before returning home to face off against the Bulldogs on Feb. 28 at Mariucci Arena, and Feb. 29 at Ridder Arena.

The Gophers go into the gauntlet with plenty of confidence, stemming from the big win over Dartmouth.

“I think so much of it is your frame of mind, your momentum and that is what I like,” Halldorson said. “We will be going into (the Wisconsin series) with some momentum.”

Minnesota claimed the regular season title in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons. The Gophers also won the 2002 WCHA conference tournament.

Top-10 for two Gophers

USA Hockey announced Monday that Minnesota sophomore forwards Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell are top-10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award.

The award is given to the most outstanding player in Division I women’s hockey each season.

The 2004 award marks the fifth straight season that a Minnesota player is a finalist and is the second consecutive season for Wendell and Darwitz.

The 13-member selection committee will decide on the three finalists by March 15.