Slumping Minnesota squad begins playoffs against pesky Bemidji State

by Brian Deutsch

According to associate head coach Brad Frost, if the Minnesota women’s hockey team hopes to reserve a spot at its sixth straight NCAA Frozen Four, the Gophers will likely have to run the table in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Championships.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, the third-seeded Gophers drew troublesome Bemidji State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

Minnesota (20-11-1 overall, 17-10-1 WCHA) hosts the Beavers in a best-of-three series this weekend at Ridder Arena.

Tonight’s game is scheduled for 7:07 while Saturday’s game is at 6:07 p.m. If necessary, Sunday’s game would start at 6:07 p.m. also.

While the ninth-ranked Gophers have dominated Bemidji State all-time, with a 29-2-3 record, Minnesota has struggled as of late against the Beavers when skating at Ridder Arena.

Bemidji State (11-18-5 overall, 9-15-4 WCHA) has taken two of the last three contests on the Gophers’ home ice, including a 2-0 shutout on Feb. 9.

Minnesota battled back the next day to split the series with a 5-3 win, proving Beavers junior goaltender Emily Brookshaw is indeed human.

“We have to make the most of our opportunities and go upstairs on (Brookshaw) and hit our rebounds,” freshman forward Jaimie Horton said. “I think last time we were a little hesitant on rebounds and didn’t try as hard.”

Brookshaw’s performance in net is often reflected by her teammates’ production at the opposite end of the ice.

In games where Bemidji State frequently finds the back of the net, Brookshaw takes her game to another level and her team has only one loss when scoring at least three goals this season.

But coming up with more than a few goals each game has been problematic for the Beavers, whose leading point-getter is senior forward Kelly Hart with 21 points this season.

By comparison, the Gophers have nine players with at least 21 points.

But Minnesota has had problems of their own as of late, frequently starting games in slow motion and allowing opponents to take advantage in the early moments of recent games.

Frost stressed the significance that a quick start would have on the Gophers’ chances this weekend.

“(Bemidji State) came out and got the first goal and it took us a while to get going,” he said of the series with the Beavers earlier this month. “By the time we started putting the pressure on, it was too late.”

Frost said slow starts have plagued the team all year and hopefully a good pace that was set this week in practice would carry over to this weekend.

Putting Minnesota’s woes into perspective, the Gophers are 17-2-1 when scoring first but just 3-9-0 when opponents strike first.

“We just have to find something within ourselves to come out early and get that first goal,” Horton said. “We need that first goal so that our team is up, and we don’t lose momentum, when they score first, it brings the whole team down.”

Minnesota Duluth made it even worse for Minnesota after its split with the Beavers as the Bulldogs pounded the Gophers 7-1 and 5-1 last weekend.

Bemidji State didn’t fair much better last weekend as it dropped a pair of games to WCHA regular season champion Wisconsin by scores of 2-0 and 6-0.

“We know that Bemidji (State) is always a hard-working team,” Minnesota senior forward Andrea Nichols said. “Coming into playoffs, it’s basically a clean slate, it’s a new season and nothing really matters as far as what happened in the past.”