Women’s hockey gets physical, offensive in sweep

Noah Seligman

It was a tale of two games Friday and Saturday at Ridder Arena with the same end result – Minnesota’s women’s hockey team winning with help from their power play.

The top-ranked Gophers (6-0-0, 6-0-0 WCHA) scored five power-play goals against St. Cloud State (1-4-0, 1-4-0) in Saturday’s fast-paced 5-3 victory and a physical 4-1 win Friday.

“We did what we had to do to win two games,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “But I think we all know that we’re capable of playing even better and that we’ll need to play better against some of our upcoming opponents.”

Saturday afternoon at Ridder Arena was an end-to-end contest with both teams attacking quickly.

“It was a different game today,” Halldorson said Saturday. “It was a little bit more wide open.”

Despite a fast-paced game that matches the Gophers’ style, they came out flat.

“I was disappointed in the way that we started,” Halldorson said. “I thought we picked it up gradually.”

The Gophers fell behind early as the Huskies tallied a power-play goal at 4:30 of the first period. It was the first power-play goal the Gophers allowed this season in 23 attempts.

But Minnesota answered back with a power-play goal at 9:22 of the period. Sophomore Natalie Darwitz tallied her fourth goal of the weekend off a give-and-go from Lyndsay Wall and Krissy Wendell.

“It was really important for us to be able to answer back with our own power-play goal,” Halldorson said. “It was just important that we bounce back from that bad start.”

Senior co-captain La Toya Clarke put home a power-play goal to give the Gophers the lead 2-1.

Minnesota ran a lot of backdoor cuts to get behind the Huskies defense but failed to put the puck in the net.

With the offense struggling, the Gophers decided to shoot first and ask questions later. Minnesota attempted a school-record 77 shots.

The game really opened up in the second stanza as both teams started shooting more. Minnesota scored two even-strength goals in the period and appeared to have the game well in hand.

But the Huskies added a goal late in the period to cut the Gophers’ lead to two and then to one at 8:50 of the third period.

“To be a one-goal game with three minutes left in the game is not where we want to be,” Darwitz said.

But Minnesota survived, and Clarke added an empty-net goal with 34 seconds left to ice the game.

Despite the victory, Saturday’s performance was not a positive closure to a frustrating weekend for Minnesota women’s hockey.

“We wanted to improve from yesterday’s game,” Darwitz said. “And I don’t think we did that much.”

The free-flowing play of Saturday afternoon was absent on the ice Friday evening. Minnesota won 4-1 in a physical game.

The game was marred by penalties as the teams accumulated 26 penalty minutes through the first 40 minutes of the game. Overall, the game had 17 penalties and plenty of post-whistle bumping.

“It was a pretty scrappy game – a lot of hooking and clipping,” Darwitz said.

St. Cloud State was put on the defensive in the opening period. The Huskies did not complete a pass in the Gophers’ offensive zone until the 10:43 mark of the first period.

Darwitz put home a wrist shot for the first of her three goals on a power play at 4:37 of the first period.

The second period had nine penalties, including three roughing calls. Kelly Stephens added a power-play goal for the Gophers for the only score of the period.

In the third period, Darwitz added a power-play goal and then completed her hat trick at 9:22 of the period – 16 seconds after the Huskies scored their lone goal of the game.

The game was difficult for Minnesota, but they again relied on the power play to carry the load.

“I thought we battled through,” Halldorson said. “I’m happy we came out with the win and our power play again did a nice job and made the difference tonight.