Women’s hockey sweeps Duluth

by Aaron Blake

Prior to this weekend’s series between the No. 1 Minnesota women’s hockey team and No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth, a pair of losses versus No. 8 Wisconsin put the Bulldogs out of the top position in the polls for the first time this season.

The Gophers (17-2-5, 12-1-3 WCHA) used solid defense and near-flawless performances from each of their freshman goaltenders to defeat Minnesota-Duluth (15-4-3, 10-4-2) 3-1 on Saturday and 1-0 on Friday.

The sweep extended Minnesota’s unbeaten streak to 18 games and proved the top ranking was not simply by default.

“We don’t place too much importance on polls,” Minnesota head coach Laura Halldorson said before the series. “It’s strictly an opinion poll.

“Polls can give you bragging rights but they don’t really mean too much. The bottom line is we need to get the job done on the ice.”

The Gophers first game of the season versus the Bulldogs was on Oct. 20 and ended in a lopsided 7-0 rout for Minnesota-Duluth.

But the second game of the series began a new chapter for Minnesota, with freshman Brenda Reinen playing her first collegiate game in goal and helping her team earn a 1-1 tie.

After Reinen’s 1-0, 42-save shutout on Friday, it seemed she had solved the Bulldogs’ potent offensive attack. Minnesota-Duluth had 89 goals in 20 games prior ñ tops in the WCHA.

But as she has done throughout the year, Halldorson insisted on splitting the series and giving the second game to the other freshman goalie, Jody Horak.

“I thought (Reinen) might (get the start) because she played so well on Friday,” Horak said. “When a goalie plays so well usually you stick with them.

“I guess I had doubts about playing.”

Horak would not disappoint.

Facing 42 Minnesota-Duluth shots and several flurries near the net, Horak was also near perfect, allowing just one Erika Holst slapshot to get past her.

The offense gave Horak slightly more help on Saturday as well.

A misplay deep in the Bulldogs zone by Satu Kiipeli left senior captain Tracy Engstrom alone to put the puck past stopper Tuula Puputti untouched on the first shot of the contest.

Minnesota-Duluth would outshoot the Gophers 17-4 in the first period, but its only goal of the evening would leave the game deadlocked at one.

Jerilyn Glenn’s lead pass from center ice midway through the second period found its way to the doorstep and needed only a little direction from La Toya Clarke to find the net. Clarke’s goal would stand as the game-winner.

Freshman Kristy Oonincx added some insurance at 8:25 of the third, scoring off a faceoff won by Clarke.

“I’m pretty happy with this weekend,” Halldorson said. “We showed incredible determination (on Saturday) because we were tired and Duluth played very well. We held up under the pressure and were able to pull it out. Great effort.”

The reason Minnesota was so tired was because of the hard-fought shutout the night before.

Ronda Curtin’s slapshot at 10:27 of the third period was the only goal for either side.

Reinen’s performance enabled her team to get by on a lone score, stopping all of the Bulldogs’ shots and earning her first career shutout.

“My team in front of me was doing a great job of blocking people out,” Reinen said. “I saw probably 41 of the 42 shots that came at me.”

The shutout was Minnesota-Duluth’s first in 44 games ñ a feat nearly repeated by the Gophers on Saturday.

The sweep gives Minnesota 27 conference points and a five-point cushion over the Bulldogs.

Gophers 4-0-2 over break

A sweep of St. Cloud State and two three-point series extended Minnesota’s unbeaten streak to 16 games before the Minnesota-Duluth weekend.

The Gophers breezed by the Huskies (4-19-1, 3-10-1) 7-2 on Dec. 14 and 5-1 on Jan. 5.

Minnesota won a series versus No. 4 St. Lawrence (12-6-2) with a 3-2 win on Jan. 7 and a 3-3 tie on Jan. 8.

Bemidji State (10-8-5, 5-7-4) also proved a tough test, with the Gophers escaping with a 2-2 tie on Jan. 12 and a 3-2 overtime victory on Jan. 13.

Gophers earn honors

Freshman Kelly Stephens and junior Curtin both earned individual awards over break.

Curtin was WCHA player of the week on Dec. 18 after scoring five assists in Minnesota’s 7-2 rout of St. Cloud State.

Stephens was given WCHA rookie of the week on Jan. 8 after getting four goals and an assist against the Huskies on Jan. 5 and St. Lawrence on Jan. 7.

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