Gophers entertain Duluth

The Minnesota women’s hockey team returns to Ridder Arena this weekend to take on Western Collegiate Hockey Association rival Minnesota-Duluth.

The two-game series starts Friday at 7:07 p.m., as does Saturday’s series finale.

The Minnesota/Minnesota-Duluth series is often called one of the biggest rivalries in college hockey.

“Over history, we’ve played each other in a lot of big games,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “In the early years, it was UMD and Minnesota battling for the top spot in the WCHA.”

The eighth-ranked Gophers hold a small advantage over the fourth-ranked Bulldogs in the series history with a 16-13-4 record.

Last season, Minnesota (4-3-1 overall, 3-2-1 WCHA) maintained the slight advantage after splitting four regular season games by a combined score of 11-8 in favor of Duluth.

The final meeting between the two teams took place in last year’s WCHA Championship semi-finals, where Minnesota handed Minnesota-Duluth a season-ending 2-1 loss.

Junior forward Jenelle Philipczyk put the Bulldogs away in that game, scoring late in the third period and helping Minnesota advance all the way to the NCAA Championships.

“This season, (Duluth) is a tough team like any year, so it will be a good physical game,” Philipczyk said. “Hopefully, we’ll pull off a win.”

Minnesota-Duluth (8-0-0, 8-0-0) heads into the series undefeated, but that doesn’t intimidate the Gophers or Halldorson.

“We don’t look at records too much,” Halldorson said. “They haven’t played us or Wisconsin, those are real good indicators.”

The Bulldogs have run the table so far in the WCHA, outscoring opponents by a combined score of 38-4 with five shutouts – including three straight coming into the Minnesota series.

“The record doesn’t really mean anything, because it all depends on the teams you’ve played,” junior forward Erica McKenzie added. “We know what kind of team they are and we know what kind of team we are.”

Halldorson did say the Bulldogs’ goaltenders are extremely talented.

Senior goalie Riitta Schaublin owns a goals against average of 0.79 and freshman Kim Martin is even better between the pipes with a goals against average of 0.26.

Not only are the two goalies part of the top-ranked team in the WCHA, but both played on their country’s Olympic team in 2006. Schaublin was a member of Team Switzerland and Martin played on the Swedish team that beat Team USA.

“They’re a good team, but we’re looking forward to the challenge,” McKenzie said. “I think we’re going to give them everything they can handle.”

Blankenship named Rookie of the Week

Freshman forward Kelli Blankenship was named WCHA Rookie of the Week after scoring two goals in last weekend’s series against Ohio State.

Blankenship scored her goals on only two shots and is tied for the team lead with five goals this season.

“Kelli has shown a strong ability to finish,” Halldorson said. “She’s gotten some big goals for us and that is a strength of hers.”