If it seems like the Minnesota women’s hockey team just played Bemidji State, that’s because they did. But a lot has changed in the 10 days since the two teams met.
Since their last meeting, the Gophers have lost two key defenders to injuries. Juniors Winny Brodt and Megan Milbert will both be absent from the Bemidji series this weekend. Milbert is out with a shoulder injury and Brodt — the nation’s leading scorer on defense — is out with a minimal compression fracture of two vertebrae. Brodt will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks.
“The losses will definitely challenge us because we have to move things around and it throws a kink in our plans,” said assistant coach Libby Witchger. “Everyone’s been playing defense, we’ll either move some people around or play short on defense.”
Last week’s first game against Bemidji was a narrow 4-2 win by Minnesota. How bad was the Gophers’ first effort in 2000? Somehow the Gophers managed to score one of the two goals against themselves.
“Everyone knew we didn’t play well,” said Witchger. “We weren’t happy with our own performance and we knew we couldn’t play like that and expect to win.”
As the Gophers head into the tougher stretch of their schedule (with WCHA-leading Minnesota-Duluth and second-ranked New Hampshire) games against teams like the Beavers become much more important.
“It’s a mental test of playing our game no matter what the competition is,” Witchger said. “Our first game against Bemidji we didn’t show up mentally. We need to play as if we’re always playing the U.S. National Team.”
Junior Nadine Muzerall knows Minnesota can’t afford a letdown against Bemidji with a tough schedule on the horizon.
“Mental toughness is something we always emphasize,” Muzerall said. “We have to trust that our talent is good enough to play East Coast teams.”
Brodt’s extended absence hurts sixth-ranked Minnesota several ways.
First and foremost, the Gophers have to beat top-ranked teams to even make it to the Final Four.
Add to that the youth of the team and things begin to look difficult for Minnesota.
With the playoffs on the horizon, only one thing’s for certain with Minnesota: Brodt will be missed.
“Winny is a big asset to the team and we’re all going to have to work harder to fill the holes,” freshman Ronda Curtin said.
The Gophers host Bemidji at Mariucci Arena Friday and Saturday nights at 7:05 p.m.
Monica Wright covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]