Struggling Gophers will try to get back on track against last place North Dakota team

Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota women’s hockey team will try to rekindle its play from earlier this season as it takes on North Dakota in Western Collegiate Hockey Association play this weekend.

Saturday and Sunday’s games are scheduled to start at 3:07 p.m. at Ridder Arena.

The Gophers (15-8-1 overall, 12-7-1 WCHA) head into the series after losing five of their last six games, while the Sioux have lost 10 straight games.

North Dakota’s streak began Dec. 9 when Minnesota defeated the Sioux 8-1.

The next day, the Gophers won 1-0, and North Dakota’s head coach Shantel Rivard was reassigned and Dennis Miller was named interim head coach.

“Our opponents in the WCHA always seem to get fired up to play the Gophers,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “North Dakota has always been hard-working, and I think (Miller) will get them going.”

The Sioux (3-21-2, 0-19-1) have yet to win a game under Miller, dropping consecutive series to both Minnesota State and Wisconsin and a pair to Bemidji State.

Since their last victory, the Sioux have scored just nine total goals compared to 38 goals by its opponents.

“Our main goal is to develop consistency from day to day,” Miller said. “We’re more concerned with what we’re doing rather than concerning ourselves with the Gophers.”

North Dakota and Minnesota are on the same page in their preparation, as the Gophers also have focused on their own play instead of their opponent’s.

Halldorson held an optional practice Monday and a team scrimmage Tuesday to give the team a break.

“(Wednesday) we got down to business trying to start over,” junior forward Erica McKenzie said. “(North Dakota) is a good team and we have to come in ready.”

Wednesday’s practice was the first real workout for the Gophers since being swept by Minnesota State last weekend.

In a surprising upset, the Mavericks managed to take two close games from Minnesota.

Before the Wednesday practice, the Gophers held a team meeting to boost morale.

“We had a good talk before practice to rally the team,” junior forward Whitney Graft said. “(The meeting) got us fired up for a good weekend and to try and start over.”

Minnesota holds a 12-0-0 all-time record against North Dakota, but the Gophers have struggled as of late, failing to sweep a series since taking both games from the Sioux in December.

The undefeated record, and the fact North Dakota hasn’t won a WCHA game this year, isn’t affect ing Minnesota’s weekend outlook.

“We just need to take care of business with our own game,” Halldorson said. “We need to learn from last weekend and combine the effort with the execution.”