Gophers hoping last week’s offensive power transfers over to this weekend

Nick Heronimus

The Gophers will taste conference competition for the first time this season as they begin WCHA play against St. Cloud State.

The Gophers (2-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) will battle the Huskies (0-2-0, 0-2-0 WCHA) in a home-and-home series. The teams will play at 6 p.m. Friday at Ridder Arena and at 2 p.m. Saturday in St. Cloud at National Hockey Center.

Minnesota plays a St. Cloud State team that is coming off a difficult season-opening weekend in which they did not register a goal against Minnesota-Duluth. But that does not mean the Gophers will overlook them this weekend.

“Anybody can beat anybody in our league,” head coach Brad Frost said.

Last weekend in the Nike Bauer Women’s Classic Minnesota had no trouble on the offensive end of the rink, but their defense was inconsistent at times. The Gophers are looking to improve upon that against St. Cloud State.

“We looked at a lot of video just showing parts where we broke down and obviously didn’t have enough discipline,” senior captain Bobbi Ross said.

To counter that, improvement on the defensive end was a focus this week in practice. The Gophers made a few tweaks and let the players know what the coaches were looking for, Frost said.

“Our defensive systems and zones are the base things we need to improve on,” senior captain Whitney Graft said.

The Huskies will challenge Minnesota in a few different areas this weekend. St. Cloud State has some good lines, great depth, and good team speed, Frost said.

These three strengths will especially be felt because the National Hockey Center rink is an Olympic-sized rink.

An Olympic-sized rink is larger than a NHL-sized rink, which the Gophers are used to playing on at Ridder Arena.

In preparation for the rink size differences the women practiced at Mariucci Arena during the week.

Minnesota might have hinted toward the team they will be this season as they appeared to play at a different level in their third-period rally against Boston last weekend.

“(In) that third period we understood how we could play,” Graft said.

Minnesota has a dominate series record against St. Cloud State. The Gophers only have one loss to the Huskies in over 30 head-to-head match-ups. Still, Minnesota will not allow that impressive stat to affect their play.

“The most important thing for our success is really focusing on us and our game,” Ross said.

Playing against St. Cloud State will mark the beginning of a long conference season and is already part of the Gophers’ mindset.

“Every team in our conference is going to be tough, so it will be a battle every weekend,” Graft said.

McKenzie honored

Senior Erica McKenzie’s four goals in the Nike Bauer Women’s Classic earned her WCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors.

The four goals included a hat trick against Northeastern and another goal against Boston.

“It’s a great honor,” Frost said. “It’s even better just to see her get out there and play well from the opening weekend.”