Minnesota looks to continue historical dominance of Beavers this weekend

In the all-time series, the Gophers hold an 18-0-3 record against conference opponent Bemidji State.

Bridget Haeg

Bemidji State coach Bruce Olson said he knows his Beavers can’t keep pace with the Minnesota women’s hockey team’s high-powered offense.

Not that they don’t want to try. They just know it won’t work.

“We’re not going to chase them around in their end, because we’re just wasting our time,” Olson said. “We’re going to give them the Bemidji sag: Get them in our end and keep them there.”

So even though No. 1 Minnesota (4-0-0, 4-0-0 WCHA) heads north to Bemidji, Minn., today on a four-game winning streak, the Gophers will need to be prepared for a team that will do anything it can to dismantle the other aspects of their game.

For a team that only scored 48 goals last season, this seems a practical game plan.

Minnesota team members know opponents will be gunning to counteract their speed, but, they said, they can adjust to Bemidji State’s (1-3-0, 0-2-0 WCHA) plan of attack.

“I think it’s just something we’re going to have to adjust to (and) just pick our heads up,” Minnesota sophomore defender Lyndsay Wall said.

“If we can’t go around them, we’ll just dump it and chase it down. I think we have enough fast people on our team that we can beat them to the puck.”

Minnesota goaltender Jody Horak has posted a 0.33 goals against average and a .979 save percentage so far this season. But she will encounter some stiff competition at the other end of the rink in Bemidji State netminder Jill Luebke.

Luebke made 46 saves in her team’s 2-1 victory over Mercyhurst in its second game of the season.

That aside, Luebke will have a challenge this weekend facing Minnesota’s top line, which has already scored 39 points – 21 of which have come on power-play attempts.

Junior forward Natalie Darwitz leads the conference in points (15) and assists (11), while her linemate, senior captain Kelly Stephens, leads the league in goals scored (seven). Junior captain Krissy Wendell is close behind with six goals.

The offense this weekend, however, will skate without forward Erica McKenzie. The freshman will rest her injured shoulder this series after injuring it during the St. Cloud State series last weekend.

But while the Gophers have proved solid offensively, problems could lurk in the penalty box.

Last weekend, the Gophers and the Huskies combined for 28 minor penalties – partially resulting from the NCAA’s new decision to start calling more penalties by the book.

“I think we’re going to have quite a few penalties at the beginning of the year because of the emphasis that the officials are making (on calling them). We have to adjust to that,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said.

With that in mind, the Gophers, who hold the all-time series record over Bemidji State 18-0-3, don’t expect to cruise through the weekend.

“I think one of the messages that we’ve tried to send this year is that great teams are consistent. They prepare consistently and play consistently, and I think that sometimes it can be tough if you go in as a heavy favorite. But we really just have to focus on playing our best,” Halldorson said.

And this weekend, playing their best will mean more than using quick legs.