Women’s hockey faces top teams in homestand

Paul Markgraff

An important series lies in wait for the fifth-ranked Gophers women’s hockey team this weekend.
The Gophers will face top-ranked Brown tonight at 7 p.m. and third-ranked Harvard on Sunday at 2 p.m., two East Coast rivals. It’s the kind of series that represents the kind of competition the Gophers will face if the AWCHA selects them for the Final Four in March.
“These are the two top teams in the country,” said Gophers coach Laura Halldorson. “It’s important because it’s the only time we’ll face these two teams during the regular season.”
Junior center Nadine Muzerall knows the games are key to improving the team’s tournament hopes.
“If we lose these two games, we’re proving we’re fifth place,” she said. “We have to beat the East Coast teams to get to nationals.”
The Gophers beat third-ranked Brown last year in the postseason after losing to and tying Harvard during the regular season. And both teams figure to be in the hunt again this year.
Playing these two teams at this point during the season adds up to a lot of pressure on the Gophers, who are facing stiff competition before the women’s WCHA season gets fully underway.
“This will be our fifth and sixth really tough teams in a row,” said Halldorson.
The Gophers split a series with Northeastern last weekend and with Providence the weekend before.
“There’s a lot of academic pressures right now with midterms,” she said. “We just have to bear down and get ready for it.”
But some of the pressure has come off of the Gophers because they are finally playing at home after a five-game stand on the road. And as always, Minnesota hopes there’s a home-ice advantage.
“I think our team does get fired up in front of their friends and family,” said Halldorson. “It’s the best two-game series we’ll have at home because of the two quality opponents.”
But behind that homestand excitement are the fundamentals of the game.
Halldorson said that goaltending will be huge as well as defensive play. She noted that both Brown and Harvard have the ability to score.
But she said the two keys to the games will be Minnesota’s ability to put the puck in the net and to keep the two East Coast teams from putting the puck in the Gophers’ net too often.
While scoring will definitely be the deciding factor in who wins and who loses, Muzerall said the Gophers have to build some sort of chemistry before they play Harvard or Brown because the games are so huge.
“We have the ability; we just need to put it into gear,” she said.
She also said little advantages like home ice, the overall speed of the Gophers and the understanding that they can’t get frivolous penalties will play a role in the outcome of the series.
Advantages aside, Halldorson’s mindset is clear and concise.
“We can’t waste these opportunities,” she said.
Especially with a possible Final- Four birth waiting in the wings.

Paul Markgraff covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]