Women’s hockey looks to surge into postseason

Brett Angel

At the beginning of each season, Minnesota women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson sets the same three goals for her team.

Win the WCHA regular-season title, win the conference tournament and win the national championship.

For the first time in three seasons the first item on that list will go unrealized for the Gophers, who will most likely finish second behind Minnesota-Duluth in the conference standings.

The Bulldogs (39 points) currently have a six-point lead on Minnesota and can make their first-place finish official with three points against Bemidji State this weekend.

Minnesota-Duluth has never lost to the Beavers in 14 all-time meetings (13-0-1), including 9-0 and 10-0 victories earlier this season.

The Gophers, meanwhile, need just two points against conference doormat Minnesota State-Mankato to lock up second-place.

It shouldn’t be too difficult. Minnesota has never lost in 20 previous meetings with the last-place Mavericks.

“We want to redeem ourselves a little bit from the last time we played them,” Halldorson said.

The Gophers looked sloppy and uninspired in their last series against Minnesota State before the holiday break, but still managed to get two wins.

And even though their final spot in the WCHA is all but set, Halldorson and the Gophers have more important things to worry about – like securing a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four.

“We want to be playing our best hockey here at the end of the season,” Halldorson said. “It shouldn’t matter who we’re playing for us to realize that the clock is ticking and the season is winding down. We don’t want to have any regrets.”

Minnesota currently sits third in both the U.S. College Hockey Online poll and Pairwise Rankings, but still must play Wisconsin twice in Madison before the conference tournament in Grand Forks, N.D.

The Badgers are currently sixth in the Pairwise Rankings.

Because of the postseason implications, Minnesota assistant coach Brad Frost said he views the Gophers’ next four games against the Mavericks and Badgers as must-wins.

“We want to carry the momentum into the postseason,” Frost said. “Any losses that we face from here on out are going to hurt for the national tournament.”

As for surrendering its first regular-season title in three years, Minnesota players can take comfort in knowing that it’s been the second-place team in the WCHA that’s won the national championship in each of the past three seasons.

“It’s awfully hard to do it all,” Halldorson said. “We still have a couple of goals out there that we’ll shoot for and we’ll do our best to reach them.”

Brett Angel covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]