Hanlon making case to top Minnesota depth chart

Freshman Kim Hanlon leads the WCHA in save percentage.

Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota women’s hockey freshman goaltender Kim Hanlon continues to surprise just about everyone.

Except, of course, herself.

The self-assured net minder ” No. 2 on the Gophers’ depth chart entering the season ” has become, arguably, the Gophers’ best goalie.

Hanlon leads the Western Collegiate Hockey Association with a goals against average of 1.04 and a save percentage of .948.

In her only start this weekend, Hanlon picked up her seventh win of the season Friday night, stopping 21 Minnesota State shot attempts, which included a key game-saving stop with 13 seconds left in regulation.

Used sparingly at the beginning of the season, the 5-foot, 6-inch Ham Lake native continues to get better with more ice time. In nine games started, Hanlon has given up only 10 goals.

“They give me a chance to play,” Hanlon said. “So I’m going to take it and run with it.”

Although Hanlon said she is gaining a tremendous amount of confidence each time she steps onto the ice, she said she prepares the same, regardless of the competition.

“I just do the same thing every game. Just get mentally ready, physically ready to go. Nothing different about any game ” doesn’t matter who we play.”

Coach Laura Halldorson said: “She just continues to improve and gain valuable experience.”

Home ice disadvantage?

Last season, the Gophers didn’t lose a game at home, going 19-0-1. This year ” even after a weekend home sweep ” Minnesota is just 9-6 on its home ice.

Halldorson said she couldn’t put her finger on why Minnesota has struggled at home, but that it once again came down to consistency.

“You have more distractions when you are in your home environment with friends and relatives and… freedom. I don’t know if that is true or not though.”

Larger rink no concern

Minnesota moved last Saturday’s game against Minnesota State into Mariucci Arena in hopes of drawing a bigger crowd and to make room from its booster clubs’ silent auction.

But the Gophers also had no gripes with playing on the Olympic-size ice sheet.

“I think it’s a big advantage for us,” Hanlon said. “We’re such a fast team, it gives us a little more space to move around.”

Fellow freshman forward Gigi Marvin, agreed.

“On breakouts you can stay wide,” she said. “We have great speed on our team so we just look to fly, put a person high. All around the big ice helped a lot for us.”

Of course, if Minnesota wants to win its third straight national championship, it will have to do it on the Olympic-size sheet of ice. The Frozen Four will be at Mariucci in late March.

“There is definitely some benefit in getting experience playing in Mariucci,” Halldorson said. “But we’re not thinking to far down the road yet.”

Lines almost set

All season long, Halldorson has shaken up her lines in hopes of finding the right combinations. And all season long, Halldorson has been apprehensive in announcing her upcoming moves.

“We don’t advertise,” Halldorson said.

But Halldorson said she hopes to have her lines set in place sooner rather than later.

“I wish we had come up with a lineup that we set in stone earlier than this point,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s too late ” I really don’t.”

Unlikely heroes

Both game-winning goals this weekend for the Gophers came under peculiar circumstances.

On Friday night, senior defender Ashley Albrecht said she had no idea why she was even in position for her breakaway goal. And once she finally put the puck in the net, Albrecht said she didn’t believe it.

“I was so nervous actually, because at practice I always miss. I didn’t think I scored but then I did, so I was really relieved, but still a little nervous.”

Saturday, junior captain Andrea Nichols tweaked an ankle injury that she had trouble with earlier in the season. But that didn’t stop Nichols from leading the Gophers to victory with her overtime goal 58 seconds into the extra frame.

“She had been hurt, and we weren’t even sure if she could go out on that shift,” Halldorson said. “I guess she decided she’d go out for one shift ” and end the game. “