Minnesota to play huge series at home against Duluth

The last team to hand Minnesota a conference loss was Duluth on Feb. 26 last season.

Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota vs. Minnesota-Duluth, arguably women’s college hockey’s biggest rivalry, takes center stage this weekend when the Gophers host the Bulldogs at Ridder Arena.

Game times are set for 7:07 p.m. both today and Saturday.

Both teams are coming off successful weekends.

“It seems like both programs are gaining momentum and have a lot of confidence right now,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “It should be a great matchup.”

Following a weekend road sweep of eighth-ranked Mercyhurst, Minnesota (5-1-0 overall, 2-0 WCHA) will try to carry last week’s power surge into this weekend’s showdown with its in-state adversary.

No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth (5-1-0, 5-1-0) arrives at the set with an equal amount of prosperity. Last weekend, the Bulldogs established themselves as an offensive machine, scoring a combined 12 goals in their two games against Ohio State.

“We need to be ready physically and ready for a battle,” forward Erica McKenzie said. “We need to bring that same physical presence to the ice and make sure we aren’t getting knocked around out there.”

Aside from an impressive last outing, the teams’ similarities don’t end there.

The Gophers and Duluth share identical records. Eerily, both suffered their lone loss on the same night (Oct. 8); the Bulldogs to preseason co-No. 1 Wisconsin and Minnesota to the other co-No. 1, St. Lawrence.

McKenzie said the Gophers are much improved since the opening weekend loss.

“We are a way different team than we were,” McKenzie said. “We don’t even look the same as far as how we play. We’re a different team and hopefully we’ll show it against Duluth.”

Halldorson said she agrees that her team has enhanced its play.

“I think we’ve come a long way since the first weekend,” Halldorson said. “We just want to continue to improve and build each weekend.”

Duluth is the most recent Western Collegiate Hockey Association team to beat Minnesota. The Bulldogs ended the Gophers’ 26-game unbeaten streak in league competition, handing Minnesota its only conference loss last year.

However, Halldorson said she isn’t worried about the past.

“This is a new season, a new team,” she said. “It will be great to see how we stack up against them this year.”

The two storied hockey programs have combined to win the last six national championships. And the Gophers understand just how much effort it will take to beat their nemesis.

“We’re going to have to work hard defensively and take advantage of the opportunities we have offensively,” Halldorson said.

“Like I’ve always said, we bring out the best in each other because of the intensity.”