For Minnesota’s women’s hockey team, change proved to be a good thing this weekend at Ridder Arena.
The fourth-ranked Gophers (9-3-0, 4-2 WCHA) mixed up their lines all weekend en route to a two game sweep over Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference foe Brown University (2-4-0).
Minnesota won 5-1 Saturday and 3-0 Sunday, giving the Gophers their first home sweep of the season.
“It’s been a while since we won two here,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “The players were very aware of that. We did what we had to do this weekend and took care of both Saturday and Sunday.”
In hopes of re-energizing the team following their most disappointing loss of the season, a 2-1 overtime loss to Ohio State, Halldorson shook things up against the Bears.
Her decision paid dividends, producing the Gophers most consistent weekend of the season, both offensively and defensively.
“Some of the inconsistency in the past has been game to game or even period to period,” Halldorson said. “We didn’t have any real downs or low points this weekend, I didn’t think.”
On Sunday, Halldorson inserted senior Ashley Albrecht defender and freshman Dagney Willey into the starting line at the left and right defensive positions, respectively. In both games, reigning Western Collegiate Hockey Association Rookie of the Year Bobbi Ross started in place of junior captain Andrea Nichols at right wing.
Minnesota took control of Sunday’s affair from the beginning. Jenelle Philipczyk scored a power-play goal 8:18 into the first period, giving the Gophers a 1-0 lead after one period.
Whitney Graft continued her breakout season with two points on the day, including an even-strength score 4:40 into the second.
Freshman Melanie Gagnon sealed the Bears’ fate with her first goal for Minnesota at 14:18 into the third.
Freshman Kim Hanlon took over net duties for Brittony Chartier and picked up her first career win in her first career start with 12 saves.
Halldorson altered the lines dramatically Saturday as well. The new-look Gophers opened the contest with senior Chelsey Brodt and sophomore Anya Miller at the left and right defensive positions, along with Erica McKenzie, Gigi Marvin and Ross.
But it was the three headed monster of McKenzie, Marvin and Ross that carried the Gophers.
Placing Ross with McKenzie and Marvin produced an offensive juggernaut. McKenzie scored a career-high four goals, while Ross posted five points and Marvin tallied three assists on the day.
Trailing 1-0 heading into the first intermission, McKenzie said the team wasn’t too concerned about their slow start.
“We weren’t really worried,” McKenzie said, “because we outplayed them, outshot them and knew we had 40 minutes to come back and rebound against it.”
In the second, the new lineup finally started to pay dividends. Minnesota came out of the locker room on a mission, scoring three unanswered goals in the period.
McKenzie wasted little time, starting the rally with a breakaway goal 50 seconds into the second stanza.
Said Ross: “Erica getting that nice goal right off the start really gave us a good jump and just made us realize that it’s time to step it up and win this game.”
Two minutes and 23 seconds later, Marvin played the puck beautifully to Ross in front of the net and Ross tapped in the goal, giving the Gophers the 2-1 advantage.
Minnesota never looked back.
Midway through the period, McKenzie and Ross played the give-and-go to perfection to put the Gophers up 3-1.
McKenzie passed the puck off to Ross, who, to McKenzie’s surprise, returned the favor by allowing McKenzie to put the puck past Brown goaltender O’Hara Shipe.
“I wasn’t really expecting the pass back because I thought she was on her own,” McKenzie said. “Bobbi made another great pass.”
Although most of the lines fared relatively well, Halldorson said it will take some time to figure out the best line combinations.
“We’re still tweaking things and trying to find the personnel that click best together,” she said. “Sometimes you have to do it one line at a time and find something that you like.”