Quick turn of events ends with Minnesota in second place in WCHA

Zach Eisendrath

Five weeks ago, Minnesota’s women’s hockey team was fighting for a top-four seed and home ice in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association tournament and an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.

But after the fourth-ranked Gophers (24-9-1 overall, 19-8-1 WCHA) won 6-0 on Sunday afternoon and 4-0 on Saturday at Ridder Arena to sweep North Dakota (7-25-2, 3-23-2 WCHA) in their final series of the regular season, Minnesota finds itself as the No. 2 seed entering the conference tournament with home ice and an at-large bid firmly secured.

“I felt like we were pretty solidly in third for most of the season, so I’m really happy that we fought our way back,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “To me, it’s a sign that we are playing good hockey here at the end of the season, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Three goals within the first 15 minutes of the game made Sunday’s contest a rout from start to finish.

Sophomore forward Erica McKenzie wasted little time, putting the Gophers out in front 1-0 just 1:42 into the game. McKenzie’s latest running mates on the first line – freshman Gigi Marvin and sophomore Jenelle Philipczyk – both assisted on the play.

“We’ve been really clicking,” McKenzie said. “We’re all doing great, putting points up on the board.”

Sophomore forward Bobbi Ross – who had been in a slump – snapped out of it midway through the period to put the Gophers up 2-0. Junior captain Andrea Nichols added a power-play goal at the 14:33 mark.

Following a scoreless second period of action, the first line struck again two minutes into the third. McKenzie scored her 26th goal of the year as Marvin and Philipczyk assisted once again.

Senior defender Allie Sanchez and Marvin both added power-play markers in the latter part of the third to stretch the lead to a six-goal margin.

“We’re playing awesome right now, and the momentum’s rolling in our favor,” McKenzie said. “We just have to keep doing what we’re doing and not change anything.”

“Obviously it’s working so far.”

After having last weekend off, freshman Brittony Chartier started her first game in more than two weeks, deflecting away all 16 Sioux shot attempts.

On Saturday, everything went according to plan. The contest, which was billed as “Krista Johnson Day,” was fitting to say the least.

After freshman standout Marvin scored at 1:21 into the game, Johnson – Minnesota’s lone senior forward – scored her fourth goal of the season at the 6:01 mark of the first.

Appropriately, on a day designated specifically for her, the Blaine native scored the goal unassisted.

“Our line was out there working hard, caused the turnover,” she said. “I just picked it up, and there wasn’t anyone really with me, and I just saw that there was a girl right in front. So I just tried to use her for a screen and just shoot as hard as I could. It just happened to go in.”

The Gophers added two more scores in the second to put the game out of reach.

McKenzie scored on the power play 4:05 into the stanza.

Later in the second with the Gophers shorthanded after sophomore Anya Miller was called for a slashing penalty, senior defender Allie Sanchez flew down the ice before dropping the puck off to junior forward Becky Wacker for her fourth goal of the season 9:05 into the period for the games final goal.

Freshman goalie Kim Hanlon started for Minnesota, recording her 11th victory – fifth shutout of the season – stopping all 20 Sioux shot attempts.

Making the win extra special was the fact that Johnson dedicated the game to her aunt Bonnie who passed away one year ago Saturday.

“It’s just nice to get recognized for being from around here and having people from the community come and support you Ö It was fun,” said Johnson.

McKenzie said she never expected the Gophers to be where they are at season’s end.

“We weren’t expecting (Duluth) to do what they did at the end of the year, but that’s why you play the game,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen; you don’t know how the bounces are going to play out.

“The momentum just kept rolling in our favor, and Duluth had some mishaps, I guess you could call them, and we slipped ahead to the No. 2 seed Ö It’s always exciting.”

Halldorson said the Gophers are entering tournament play like she hoped – on a hot streak.

“We’re winning close games. We are getting scoring from a variety of sources, and that gives us confidence entering the playoffs,” she said.