Second season starts Thursday for women’s hockey

by Aaron Blake

The 2002 WCHA Women’s Final Five takes place Thursday through Saturday at Fogerty Arena in Blaine. Minnesota plays the winner of Thursday’s Bemidji State/Ohio State contest at 7:05 p.m. on Friday and either Wisconsin or Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday.

Here’s a look at the five teams playing in the second season.

#1 Minnesota Gophers

(26-3-5, 19-2-3 WCHA)

Heading into the WCHA tournament, the first-ranked Gophers are 12-1-0 in their final 13 regular season games. The loss signifies a 2-0 defeat to Wisconsin, which snapped Minnesota’s 24-game unbeaten streak.

Patty Kazmaier Award candidate Ronda Curtin finished with the WCHA lead in conference points (35) and assists (26). Freshman goaltenders Jody Horak and Brenda Reinen are first and second, respectively, in both conference goals against average (1.10 and 1.31) and save percentage (.955 and .949). Minnesota is first in team defense (1.42 goals allowed per game) and power plays (26.2 percent).

#2 Wisconsin Badgers

(21-10-2, 17-6-1)

Wisconsin went 11-1-0 over its final 12 games to gain a tie in the WCHA standings with Minnesota-Duluth, and won the tie-breaker by virtue of more conference wins. Wisconsin shut out the Gophers 3-0 through five periods Feb. 16-17, with Minnesota rallying to win 3-2 in the finale to gain a split.

Sophomore Meghan Hunter finished second in WCHA points (32) and goals (17) and first in power-play goals (nine). Goalie Jackie MacMillan leads the WCHA in shutouts (six) and is third in save percentage (.933).

#3 Minn.-Duluth Bulldogs

(21-5-4, 16-5-3)

Minnesota-Duluth began the season looking unbeatable and the favorite to repeat as both Final Five and national champions. The third-ranked Bulldogs began the season 15-0-3. The Gophers lead the season series 2-1-1 despite suffering their worst loss in program history in a 7-0 rout Oct. 20.

Erika Holst, Maria Rooth, and Hanne Sikio represent the most intimidating assembly of offensive talent in the WCHA. All three rank in the top six in conference points per game and played in the Olympics. Minnesota-Duluth leads the WCHA in team offense with 3.83 goals per game.

#4 Ohio State Buckeyes

(17-13-4, 9-12-3)

Ohio State gained its middle-of-the-pack status by beating the weaker teams (9-2-1 versus Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, and Minnesota State, Mankato) and never upsetting the stronger ones (0-10-2 against Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota-Duluth).

Freshman Jeni Creary took the WCHA by storm in her first year, finishing first in conference goals (19) and third in points (29). Ohio State has no other players in the top 15 in points, goals, or assists, finishing sixth in the WCHA in team offense (2.21 goals per game).

#5 Bemidji State Beavers

(12-12-8, 7-11-6)

Bemidji State has been the Jekyll and Hyde of the WCHA this season – especially against Minnesota. The Beavers have brought three of the four contests with the Gophers into overtime, losing once and tying twice. In addition, they suffered a 9-0 thrashing Nov. 11.

Junior Amber Fryklund is 10th in WCHA points (23) and ninth in goals scored (10). Stopper Bre Dedrickson is ninth in conference save percentage (.902) and goals against average (3.37).

Gophers sweep awards

Curtin and freshman forward Kristy Oonincx swept this week’s WCHA individual awards. Curtin and Oonincx each scored seven points last weekend to win player of the week and rookie of the week, respectively.

Curtin scored the game-winning goal and tallied an assist in Friday’s 4-1 defeat of St. Cloud State. She added a goal and four assists in Saturday’s 9-1 blowout.

Oonincx had two assists on Friday and scored two goals – including the game-winner – and three assists on Saturday.

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