After tough stretch, a little breather for Minnesota

Nick Heronimus

After facing an extremely difficult stretch in their schedule, against the top two teams in the WCHA, the Minnesota women’s hockey team now faces a team at the other end of the standings.

The Gophers (7-4-1, 5-4-1 WCHA) face North Dakota Saturday, Nov. 24, and Sunday, Nov. 25, in Ridder Arena. The games are both scheduled to be played at 3 p.m.

It is no secret that the Sioux are not among the WCHA powerhouses which the Gophers have been competing lately, but that does not give Minnesota any illusions of effortlessness against North Dakota.

“North Dakota might seem like a lighter team,” senior forward Whitney Graft said. “But they are going to come out ready for us.”

Currently the Sioux are in seventh place in the WCHA standings. Their only wins have come against cellar dweller Bemidji State, and those wins will be over a month old by the time North Dakota and the Gophers meet.

The Sioux have only six points in the WCHA and have been outscored by seven goals in WCHA play and 19 goals overall.

A bright spot, however, in their difficult season is junior forward Melissa Jaques. Jaques leads North Dakota in goals with six, and her 10 points and 50 shots are also team bests.

Minnesota is coming into this series riding high after arguably the toughest stretch in their season, facing Minnesota Duluth and Wisconsin.

The Gophers went 4-2 against those teams and head coach Brad Frost said he is extremely pleased to play the Badgers and Bulldogs like that.

And during this successful stretch, Minnesota has learned many different things about their team this year and most of those messages have been pretty clear, said senior forward Bobbi Ross.

“It’s a pretty simple lesson.” Ross said. “And that is the importance of playing 60 full minutes.”

The key to the Gophers’ success has been doing all the little things like blocking shots and playing solid hockey.

In order to continue that success against the Sioux it is all about keeping things “rolling,” Graft said.

And to do that, Minnesota will heed the advice that Frost has stressed all season, and continue to focus on team play rather than the play of opponents.

“Our opponents matter; we respect them and tailor things to them,” Frost said. “But we have to play Minnesota hockey and play with heart and desire.”

One issue that the Gophers face this week is a holiday as the season runs into Thanksgiving. Minnesota will spend Thursday with their families but will be right back out on the rink Friday.

“Everybody understands that we are in the middle of the season,” Ross said. “And we’ll practice like we always do.”