National tourney implications on the line for women’s hockey

Michael Rand

It was predicted, because of the state’s strong history in the sport and the stockpile of talented players that tradition produces, that the Gophers women’s hockey team would be competitive in this, its inaugural season.
What some people might not have seen coming is Minnesota — the No. 5 team in the country and the subject of a recent article in USA Today — entering this weekend’s home series against No. 2 Northeastern with a realistic chance of positioning itself for a berth in the national tournament.
But that’s the scenario. And Gophers players and coaches are relishing the opportunity.
“What’s huge about it is that we could really make a statement by upsetting them,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “Even just playing good games with them will be important in our quest to reach the national tournament this year.”
The women’s hockey final four — which is sanctioned by USA Hockey, not the NCAA — is in its first year of existence. Because East Coast schools like Northeastern have dominated women’s hockey in the past, weekends like this one are particularly important for the Gophers.
And it carries even more significance for one Minnesota player. Julie Otto, the only senior on a team dominated by freshmen, played at Northeastern for three years before transferring here. Otto said she’s eager to show Heather Linstand, her old coach at Northeastern, a few moves.
“I think about all her philosophies and things I’ve learned,” Otto said. “I want to go out there and show her what I’ve learned and maybe do a couple of moves around them. I wouldn’t feel bad if they were right in front of her.”
But Otto, like the rest of her teammates, is more focused on the game than personal issues.
On the ice, Halldorson said she would like to see the Gophers get production from their second and third lines. The bulk of the team’s scoring has come from its first line, though the lower lines picked up some of the slack during Minnesota’s 2-1 East Coast swing last weekend.
The Gophers would like to have similar success this weekend, for both short-term and long-term reasons.
“Of course we’re thinking about (the national tournament), but we’re trying to focus on each game, especially these games against Northeastern because this weekend is huge,” Otto said. “I hope we come out and play like we can because I know we can come out there and beat them.”

— Tim Nichols contributed to this article