Gophers, Mavs set for WCHA tourney

Minnesota swept the two series between the two teams this season.

Grant Donald

With numerous conference titles, national championships and consistent ranking as one of the top programs in the nation, the Gophers have plenty of targets on their backs.

But this weekend, yet another target will be added.

Ten Minnesota-born players will visit Ridder Arena this weekend as members of Minnesota State-Mankato come for the first round of the WCHA tournament.

They’ll look to get revenge on the hometown school that overlooked them back in high school.

“Everyone has nine, 10, 15 Minnesota kids on their roster, and for one reason or another, they didn’t have an opportunity to play [for the Gophers],” head coach Brad Frost said. “Whenever you go somewhere other than the University of Minnesota, you want to beat the Gophers. It’s just natural.”

Luckily for Frost and the rest of the Gophers, those teams have had little success defeating Minnesota throughout the years, something that probably won’t change this weekend.

Minnesota swept the Mavericks during the team’s regular season series, outscoring Mankato 23-5 in those games. Sophomore Dani Cameranesi recorded a hat trick in the first meeting back in November, and junior Maryanne Menefee notched a hat trick in January.

“Our coaches do a good job of keeping us grounded,” Cameranesi said. “We have our goals, and we know what it takes in order to accomplish them. The process starts this weekend.”

The Gophers will defend last year’s WCHA Final Face-Off championship without one of their top defenseman.

Junior Milica McMillen received a one-game suspension from the WCHA earlier this week and will miss Friday’s game against the Mavericks.

McMillen, who leads the team with 61 penalty minutes, received a five-minute game misconduct for making contact to the head during last Saturday’s 4-2 victory over Bemidji State.

“I watched [the hit] on my way home, and any time there is contact to the head, [the WCHA] is going to review it for suspension,” Frost said, adding that he had “no problem” with the one-game penalty.

With McMillen out of the picture Friday, sophomores Megan Wolfe and Kelsey Cline will likely receive more minutes in the team’s defensive rotation.

Wolfe is coming off one of her most productive weekends, scoring a tying goal in Saturday’s contest against Bemidji State.

“A lot of people have been telling me to shoot more, so I just felt a little more confident [last weekend],” Wolfe said. “Obviously having Milica out of the lineup will hurt us a little bit, but I think we will all step up.”

McMillan’s absence Friday shouldn’t pose too much of a problem for Minnesota, considering the team’s defensive pairings have been fluid throughout the season.

The fact that Mankato has the second-worst offense in the WCHA should help, too.

“On the blue line, we definitely have a ranking for our No. 1-6, and our No. 6 doesn’t play as much as our No. 1 is going to play,” Frost said. “They have to be comfortable playing with everybody because when we role five [defensemen], which we do for a majority of our games, they need to be able to play with each other.”