Generous break readies Gophers for road to repeat

Minnesota will find out its NCAA regional opponent at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Chris Lempesis

While no team gets a full break this late in the season, what Minnesota’s women’s hockey team is getting is pretty close.

The top-ranked Gophers (33-2-2), having already won the WCHA Tournament, have to wait for three other conferences (College Hockey America, East Coast Athletic Conference and Hockey East) to play tournaments this weekend before finding out whom they will play in the NCAA quarterfinals.

They will find this out at 5 p.m. Sunday.

The quarterfinal, which has been added to the NCAA playoffs for the first time this year, will not be played for at least another eight days, and thus Minnesota has a lightened workload this week.

Minnesota is used to getting a break at this time of the season. In years past, it has usually had 12-13 days between the conclusion of the WCHA Tournament and the Frozen Four.

This year’s break couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It’s really nice just to not have to think about playing any games and just go out there and focus on stuff that we need to work on and to take it easy,” senior Noelle Sutton said.

Of course, Minnesota doesn’t entirely have the week off.

While Monday, Tuesday and Saturday are days off, the team practiced Wednesday, and will practice today and Friday. It will have a light weightlifting session Sunday.

When they do practice, coach Laura Halldorson said, things will be pretty general because, well, they have to be when the opponent is to be determined.

But a week off this late in the season can be a double-edged sword, and the Gophers are stressing not losing the momentum they gained by dominating the WCHA the entire season.

Sutton said that while she’d rather play this weekend, the team would be fine.

Halldorson said she agreed.

“I’m not worried about (us losing our edge), because the importance of the games coming up should get everybody focused,” Halldorson said. “And I think we’ll be ready to go.”

But Halldorson wasn’t so clear on whether having this weekend off would give her team an advantage once the playoffs begin.

“It’s just the way it is, so I don’t worry about it,” she said.

Freshman defender Anya Miller said that the extra week should help.

Miller pointed to the fact the team will still have a full week of preparation for its quarterfinal game even after the light week.

Regardless, next week will mark the last of any sort of break for the Gophers, because they are a little too close to repeating as national champions to get another one.

So they’re enjoying this while it lasts, but they are ready to go.

“It’s probably a good thing,” Miller said.

“It’s just kind of nice to relax for a moment so you’ll be ready to go when the big game comes up.”