Gophers looking to move north in WCHA

Minnesota will play at co-WCHA leader Minnesota-Duluth this weekend.

Zach Eisendrath

Four games and eight points back in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings, it would appear that Minnesota’s women’s hockey team had a realistic shot at repeating as regular season conference champions.

A series sweep against in-state rival, fourth-ranked Duluth (16-3-1 overall, 14-3-1 WCHA), would be a huge first step toward this goal when the two teams square off at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.

Both games of the two-game set are scheduled to face off at 7:07, tonight and Saturday.

Although coach Laura Halldorson admits the fifth-ranked Gophers (15-6-1, 10-5-1) still have conference championship aspirations, she said the team has bigger things with which to concern themselves.

“We need some help in order to catch Wisconsin and Duluth,” Halldorson said. “I think it is more important that we focus on peaking at the right time and being ready for postseason play. I think this series will give us an idea of where we are right now.”

Earlier this year when Minnesota hosted the Bulldogs, both games went lopsided with the Gophers winning 4-1, and Duluth responding the next night with a 6-0 thumping of its own.

But that was a long time ago.

“I feel like when we played them ” it was at the beginning of the year ” that we’ve came so far as a team,” sophomore Erica McKenzie said. “I think our confidence is high right now. We’re excited and ready to get out there and play.”

Like her coach, McKenzie said the team has other priorities than winning the WCHA regular season conference crown.

“We’re not really talking about that,” she said. “We’re just thinking… we have the Bulldogs ahead of us right now and we’re going to take one game at a time ” try to win that first one and then try and get the sweep.”

Asked for a solution on how to stop the talented Bulldogs, Halldorson said her team would need to play solid hockey all around.

“We know they have a lot of speed and skilled players and we’re going to have to be on our toes defensively and really cut down on their offensive opportunities,” she said. “At the same time, we want to be aggressive and get the puck to the net.

“We will see how the weekend goes because we always have great series against these guys. It should be a lot of fun.”