Minnesota will look to continue its winning ways against North Dakota

In 10 total meetings, the Gophers have outscored the Sioux 59-7.

Brian Deutsch

Two teams at opposite ends of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will meet this weekend as the Minnesota women’s hockey team closes out the first half of the regular season against North Dakota.

The Saturday/Sunday series will be played at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D., and both games are scheduled to begin at 2:07 p.m.

The Gophers are undefeated against the Sioux all-time with a 10-0-0 record dating back to November 2003.

In that first series against North Dakota, Minnesota dominated – taking both games by a combined score of 16-3.

Overall, the fifth-ranked Gophers have outscored the Sioux 59-7, with Minnesota allowing just 0.7 goals a game.

“We have to work hard and not play at other teams’ levels,” Gophers junior forward Jenelle Philipczyk said. “We have to set a good pace coming into next semester.”

Last season, Minnesota (12-3-1 overall, 9-2-1 WCHA) allowed only one goal in four wins over UND – including two straight home shutouts to end the regular season.

And, judging by both teams’ play early in the season, the Gophers would have been heavily favored to continue its dominance.

But the Sioux seem to be turning around their season.

A usually unproductive offense put up five goals against St. Cloud State two weeks ago, to snap an 11-game losing streak.

North Dakota (3-11-2, 0-9-1) followed it up with a 4-2 win and a 0-0 tie against nonconference opponent Niagara.

The Sioux’s strong play of late might have instilled confidence in a young team, which features 18 freshmen and sophomores.

One freshman, goaltender Brittany Kirkham, earned the team’s first WCHA honor of the season for her performance against the Purple Eagles.

Kirkham was named WCHA Rookie of the Week after stopping 67 shots and allowing just two goals in the series.

Although North Dakota is winless in conference play this season, Minnesota head coach Laura Halldorson said this weekend will still be a tough matchup.

“Anything can happen on a weekend,” Halldorson said. “We just want to focus on ourselves and what we need to be doing to continue to improve as the season goes on.”

The Sioux will try to maintain their improved level of play and, perhaps, pick up their first conference win of the season.

“You need to show up and play well every night in this league or things can go wrong,” Gophers senior defenseman Maggie Souba said. “(UND) has always been known to be hardworking, and they are definitely a team that we can’t take lightly.”

With a sweep this weekend, Minnesota would head into the break on a 10-game winning streak before meeting up with No. 1 Wisconsin on Jan. 5-6.

“It would definitely be nice to head into the break feeling good about the way we finished the first semester,” Halldorson said. “Then, we can start gearing up for the Badgers and the second semester.”