Second-place Bemidji State up next for women’s hockey

Aaron Blake

A struggling Minnesota women’s hockey offense comes away from a weekend in which it avenged a WCHA postseason loss to Ohio State with a sense of rejuvenation.

Though the Gophers (5-2-1, 4-1-1 WCHA) scored only five goals on the weekend, the types of shots and amount of opportunities to score gave the team something to build on for this weekend versus Bemidji State (5-1-2, 3-1-2).

Minnesota does battle with the Beavers at 2:05 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Mariucci Arena.

The 2-1 and 3-2 victories over the Buckeyes earned the Gophers four points and placed them atop the WCHA standings. The Beavers’ sweep of Minnesota State, Mankato put them in second position.

If the Gophers need any help in restarting their sputtering offense, playing Bemidji State has historically been ideal.

In nine games against the Beavers over the past two years, the Gophers averaged an impressive 5.67 goals per game. This number includes three games in which coach Laura Halldorson has been forced to institute her 10-goal lead limit.

But the WCHA isn’t just two or three teams deep anymore, and Bemidji State represents a much tougher foe than history dictates.

“Bemidji (State) is doing very well this year,” Halldorson said. “That’ll be a tough weekend for us.”

Normally a doormat, the Beavers are another team that can’t be looked past anymore.

“Every weekend is going to be hard in our league,” Halldorson said. “Our sport has reached the point where there aren’t weekends that you can coach through.”

The Gophers will need the continued aggressive play of freshman Kelly Stephens, who represented the majority of Minnesota’s offense against Ohio State.

She scored three goals, including the game-winner on Saturday with 20 seconds left. Her efforts earned her U.S. College Hockey Online National Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Halldorson added freshman Kristy Oonincx to the offense and accordingly switched around the right wings on every line.

Fellow right wing and senior captain Laura Slominski was moved to the second line with Tracy Engstrom and Noelle Sutton.

“It gives us more depth, which is very important,” Slominski said. “Obviously, Kristy’s a great player. So it’s good to have another solid forward out there.

“I’ve been with coach for four years now and she likes to change the lines quite a bit.”

Freshman goaltender Jody Horak was also thrown into the mix on Saturday, allowing two goals on three first period shots. She settled in and held the Buckeyes scoreless for the remainder to gain a victory in her first collegiate game.

Halldorson started Horak several days after sophomore netminder Stephanie Johnson stopped practicing with the team. However, Halldorson denied that Johnson’s departure forced her to rush an injured Horak into service.

“That was our plan anyway because (Horak) was doing better with her (hand) injury,” Halldorson said. “It was great to split them and have each of them win.”

Regardless of who starts in goal this weekend, the Gophers must deal with the offensive prowess of Bemidji State’s Amber Fryklund, who scored a hat trick in the Beavers 4-1 win over the Mavericks last weekend and averages 1.75 goals per game.

Aaron Blake covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]