Women’s hockey to get first test

Brett Angel

Special teams can often be the difference between winning and losing – and not just in football.

In hockey, power plays and penalty kills present the best opportunity to score and the greatest risk of being scored against.

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team has won its four games this season by an average of seven goals, so to this point special teams haven’t been much of a concern.

But head coach Laura Halldorson knows how instrumental they can be to a team’s success.

“Those are the situations that can win or lose a game,” Halldorson said. “We’ve been OK (this season), but I don’t think we’ve been great at it. We’re going to face tougher opponents and it’s going to be a lot harder to execute.”

The Gophers (4-0, 2-0 WCHA) face the first of those tougher opponents this weekend when they travel to Columbus for a two-game series with Ohio State (2-2, 2-0).

Two weeks into the season, Minnesota is locked in a three-way tie with the Buckeyes and Minnesota-Duluth atop the WCHA standings.

Those same three teams also rank first, second and third in the conference in combined special teams.

None of the three teams faced much resistance in their opening conference series and all came out unscathed with perfect 2-0-0 conference records. But each will face much stiffer competition this weekend.

While the Gophers will be in Columbus, the top-ranked Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0) visit No. 6 Wisconsin (4-0, 0-0).

Minnesota has dominated each of its first four games this season, out-shooting its opponents by an average margin of 46-19, but the Gophers’ success has come against opponents with a combined 2-6 record.

“The pucks are going in the net, we’ve been getting the bounces, but we haven’t really been tested yet,” Gophers forward La Toya Clarke said. “This weekend will be a very good test for us.”

Ohio State faces the formidable challenge of derailing a balanced Minnesota attack featuring three of the top four point leaders in the conference in Natalie Darwitz, Krissy Wendell and Kristy Oonincx.

“We need to be an aggressive, hard-working team,” Buckeyes coach Jackie Barto said. “They’ve got a lot of weapons and we’ve got to take away their time and space on the ice.”

Last week, Barto’s team experienced firsthand the difference special teams can make. The Buckeyes lost a pair of one-goal games to New Hampshire, who capitalized on three of eight power play opportunities in the series. Ohio State failed to score in five chances with the extra player.

Ohio State looks to improve on its special teams numbers this weekend at Minnesota’s expense. If the Buckeyes can’t, they might be looking up at the Gophers in next week’s WCHA standings.

Brett Angel covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at

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