Women’s hockey wins, now must wait

by Tim Nichols

Mariucci Arena is now closed for Minnesota’s women’s hockey team. The sticks are put away and the uniforms are hung up for the time being, following the Gophers 10-2 rout of Augsburg in their final home game of the year.
Until next Sunday, the Gophers will be playing a different type of game — The Waiting Game.
“We’re anticipating, we’re waiting for that phone call next week,” leading scorer Nadine Muzerall.
The phone call she is waiting for is from the USA Hockey committee. It will determine whether Minnesota will be invited to the four-team national championship tournament in Boston.
Sunday’s game had the feel of a tune-up for the tournament, with the Gophers using a variety of lines in their victory.
One player who has came out of the shadows and has shown she is one of the best players on this team is left wing Ambria Thomas. In Sunday’s game, Thomas had one goal and four assists.
For the majority of the year, she has been overshadowed by Muzerall, the nation’s fourth-leading scorer, and Kris Scholz, who is fourth in the nation in assists. Thomas has a plus-54 rating and has been the most solid forechecker on the Gophers this year.
“When I’m having a good game, I try to forecheck and I like to get in the corners. I don’t take a lot of shots, but I like to go behind the net and work out,” Thomas said.
Thomas’ forechecking ability definitely made an impact in the contest against Augsburg. At the 17:40 mark of the first period, Thomas took the puck in the Augsburg corner during a forecheck, swept across the net and beat Meg Schmidt on the right side for her 23rd goal of the season. The goal was also Thomas’ only shot of the game.
Another player who had a monster game was Matty Brekken. The freshman from Devils Lake, N.D., had two goals and two assists. One of those goals came when the Gophers were shorthanded 5-to-3. Minnesota ended the game with three shorthanded goals.
Brittny Ralph also had a goal, the third she’s scored in her brief stint as a center. She is normally a defender.
The recent success of Ralph at the center position leaves head coach Laura Halldorson with a dilemma: Move Ralph to the frontline permanently or keep her on the blue line?
“She definitely creates some offense when she’s out there. But we also know that she is able to help out defensively,” Halldorson said. “We’re not necessarily going to permanently change our lineup because Brittny is a big part of our defense.”
Halldorson will need to make a final decision if the Gophers make the national tourney. Right now, they’re battling Brown and Dartmouth for the final spot. Should they get in, Minnesota will probably be the fourth seed and have to face No. 1 New Hampshire. But that would serve Muzerall just fine.
“I definitely have been waiting very long to play New Hampshire again, it’s just a personal thing, too,” Muzerall said. “I’ll just say this: They’re number one. I don’t want them to be number one, I want us to number one. I don’t like anyone who’s ever ahead of us. I just want to beat them really bad. Just put that big heavy lead balloon over them and drop it on them.”
About the balloon comment …
“They’re flying up in there thinking they’re number one, and I just want that to smack down on them, we can just drill right through them, beat them. A little hostility, I guess you can say,” Muzerall said.
Strong words. But they could be moot words if the Gophers are not selected by the tournament committee. Homer Simpson might have put it best when he said, “The Waiting Game stinks, let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippos.”
“I think it’s really sad and upsetting, actually, that our year went by so fast,” Muzerall said. “But, I can’t wait for that phone call.”