Women’s hockey team gets bid to play in final four

Tim Nichols

At about this time last year, the University of Minnesota was infected with March Madness because of the men’s basketball team’s success. Although the men’s hoops team did not make the NCAA field this year, there will be a final four for one of the University’s programs this year.
Minnesota’s women’s hockey team found out Sunday night it has been selected to play New Hampshire in the national semifinal at Harvard University on March 21. The winner of that game will play the winner of Brown and Northeastern at FleetCenter the following day, with the semifinal losers playing in a consolation game in Harvard.
The Gophers, in their first season at the varsity level, are extremely satisfied with the recognition of being selected unanimously as one of the top four teams in the country.
“Starting the season, a lot of people didn’t think we would be able to fit in with the ECAC teams,” said team captain Julie Otto. “Getting here and getting the bid is great.”
If the Gophers are to succeed in the American Women’s College Hockey Alliance (AWCHA) championship, starting goaltender Erica Killewald will need to be sharp. Killewald comes into the tournament with a 18-3-3 record and a 2.07 goals against average. Her record against the three teams in the tournament, however, is 0-2-2. The Gophers also have not played an ECAC opponent since Jan. 25 against Northeastern.
“I think we’re prepared, mentally and physically. We’ve matured as a team this second part of the season,” Killewald said. “We’ve played New Hampshire twice now and our second game that we played them we played really well, and we came really close to beating them. So, I think we have a really great chance.”
Minnesota last played New Hampshire Dec. 30 and lost 6-5. The Gophers maintain they were a younger, inexperienced team then and are a much more cohesive and aggressive hockey club now.
“Now we’ve come together as a team a lot more then we were back then,” Killewald said. “And we’ve realized what it takes to be a team that’s ranked No. 1 in the nation.”
In the meantime, the No. 1 team in the nation is New Hampshire. The Wildcats are led by Brandy Fisher, their leading scorer and a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award — the female equivalent to men’s hockey’s Hobey Baker Award.
The Gophers come into the game boasting their own playmaker, Kazmaier Award semifinalist Nadine Muzerall. In the past, Muzerall has had some choice words for the Wildcats, making for an interesting and potentially volatile match-up.
“I think it’s going to come down, honestly, to who’s got the most heart,” Muzerall said.