Women’s hockey travels to rival Wisconsin

by Aaron Blake

Minnesota women’s hockey coach Laura Halldorson was surprised to learn that her team has been undefeated (6-0-2) so far in the month of November.

The No. 4 Gophers (9-2-3, 5-1-2 WCHA) will attempt to complete that feat this weekend at No. 10 Wisconsin (6-5-2, 5-2-1). Both games are scheduled for 7:05 p.m. starts.

Over the past two weekends, Minnesota faced four quality east-coast teams. The Gophers were 36 seconds from a four-game sweep of second-ranked New Hampshire, third-ranked Dartmouth, seventh-ranked Brown, and unranked Harvard.

But New Hampshire evened out the score late in the third period and the game ended in a 3-3 tie last Sunday.

“It’s quite different from our first couple seasons when the minority of our games were close,” Halldorson said. “Now almost every single game is a one-goal game.

“To have such great competition both within our league and outside of our league is what we’re striving for. It definitely makes us better. We improve throughout the season and hopefully it helps us when the postseason rolls around.”

Minnesota’s tough schedule resumes with a matchup against Wisconsin. Following this weekend, the Gophers will have faced seven top-10 opponents in their first 16 games.

The Badgers stand in second place in the WCHA and are coming off a 1-0 loss to St. Lawrence.

Wisconsin handed the Gophers their final loss last season in the WCHA tournament, heightening the border battle.

The WCHA tournament loss was the Badgers’ first defeat of the Gophers in 10 meetings. Minnesota leads the series 8-1-1.

“There’s definitely a rivalry,” Wisconsin coach Trina Bourget said. “Our players get really excited to play Minnesota and it’s always a good game.”

Gophers senior captain Laura Slominski is anticipating the two teams’ first faceoff this season.

“They’re a great team,” Slominski said. “Last year, we played some up-and-down games against them. The last game of the season was very disappointing. We’re definitely excited to play against them and every time we play them it’s a tough game.”

A continuing reason for Wisconsin’s success this year is the offensive prowess of forward Meghan Hunter.

Hunter stormed into college hockey a season ago, leading the WCHA as a freshman with 78 points in 35 games. She also led the conference with 42 goals.

“No question Meghan Hunter is a goal scorer,” Halldorson said. “She’s done some damage against us in the past. So we have to be very aware of her on the ice and not give her any extra room to operate.”

Minnesota will need the continued solid play of goaltender Jody Horak in order to stop Hunter. Horak was named WCHA rookie of the week after stopping 74 shots in a 3-2 win over Dartmouth and the 3-3 tie with New Hampshire.