Minnesota battles Niagara for first time since 2002 Frozen Four

by Brian Deutsch

The last time the Minnesota women’s hockey team played Niagara, assistant coach Laura Slominski was still the team captain for the Gophers.

Minnesota will host the Purple Eagles in a two-game series this weekend at Ridder Arena. Game one is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. on Saturday with Sunday’s finale also scheduled for 1 p.m.

The two teams haven’t played each other in four years, meaning neither team’s players have experience against its opponents.

“Niagara is an unknown team, so we don’t know too much about them,” sophomore defenseman Melanie Gagnon said. “We’re going to try to piece together how they play and take it from there.”

Minnesota is 1-1-1 against Niagara (4-4-2, 0-0-0) all-time. The Gophers defeated the Purple Eagles 4-2 in the first-ever game between the two teams in the 2000-2001 season. Niagara answered back the next year though, beating Minnesota 2-1 before meeting up again in the 2001-2002 NCAA Frozen Four third-place game.

Both teams found the back of the net twice, but neither was able to score the game-winner and the game ended in a 2-2 tie.

“Niagara is a good, solid team,” associate head coach Brad Frost said. “They’re a pretty deep team and very well-coached.”

Minnesota (6-3-1 overall, 5-2-1 WCHA) is bringing a full head of steam with it after sweeping Minnesota-Duluth – which was the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s top team before the losses – last weekend.

But the sixth-ranked Gophers will likely have to play the series without its leading point scorer, sophomore forward Gigi Marvin, who is in Canada for the Four Nations Cup.

“We had to shuffle a little bit with Gigi missing this weekend, but we may get her back for the second game,” head coach Laura Halldorson said. “We’ll see how these line combinations do and go from there.”

Marvin’s 11 points would come in handy if Minnesota wants to prosper against a Niagara team that averages 2.27 goals a game.

“Points are very important to us,” freshman forward Kelli Blankenship said. “We are going to do the best we can to execute and get the win.”

Ross and Chartier honored

Two Gophers were honored after last weekend’s sweep against Minnesota-Duluth.

Sophomore goaltender Brittony Chartier was named WCHA Defensive Player of the Week after earning two wins, including her first shutout of the season, against the Bulldogs.

Junior forward Bobbi Ross was named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week after scoring two goals and one assist in the sweep.

U.S. Team is 1-1

The United States’ Four Nations Cup team is 1-1 after a 3-0 loss to Canada on Tuesday and Wednesday’s 5-2 win over Finland.

Five U.S. players have ties to Minnesota, including current players Marvin and Rachael Drazan.

The five Gophers accounted for four of the team’s goals. Krissy Wendell had a pair of goals and an assist, while Marvin added a goal in the 5-2 win. Natalie Darwitz led the team in points with three assists and a goal.