Women’s hockey hosts Ohio State

by Aaron Blake

Returning home from a disappointing weekend split out East, Minnesota’s women’s hockey team plays Ohio State this weekend to gain some revenge and regain some respect.

The Gophers play the Buckeyes (1-1-2, 2-2-2) at 7:05 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at Mariucci Arena.

Last weekend brought a pair of 2-1 games for No. 6 Minnesota (2-1-1 WCHA, 3-2-1 overall) – an overtime victory at Mercyhurst and a loss at Niagara.

An upset win in the semifinals of the WCHA tournament made Ohio State the only conference foe the Gophers had a losing record against in the season.

The loss also killed the Gophers’ hopes for a national championship run in 2001.

“It stuck in my mind; I know that for sure,” junior La Toya Clarke said. “All summer and still.”

The Gophers were down 2-0 heading into the third period and outshot the Buckeyes 17-4. But Minnesota couldn’t find the net and lost 4-0.

“We’ll remember what they did last year, but we also have to realize it’s a new year and a new game,” senior captain Laura Slominski said.

Though Clarke and Slominski remember the Ohio State debacle vividly, everybody, including the 11 new players on the team, will be playing for some recourse.

The first several weeks have brought mostly average play, but Minnesota is not the same team that won a national championship two years ago and the WCHA regular-season title last season.

A humiliating 7-0 loss two weeks ago in Duluth and last weekend’s defeat at Niagara leaves the Gophers 0-2-1 against teams over .500.

A defense without an upperclassman began the season as Minnesota’s biggest question mark, but the offense is the unit really struggling, scoring only four goals in the past four games.

“Anybody would (still like to have offensive weapons Nadine Muzerall and Courtney Kennedy), I’m sure,” Clarke said. “Just their talent, their presence on the ice and in the locker room.

“We can make it work. It’s just different than it was last year. I can’t just rely on my offense anymore. I have to step it up and play good, solid defense.”

While the offense finds its rhythm, the defense is bolstered by the strong play of freshman goaltender Brenda Reinen (1.27 goals against average).

Reinen’s counterpart will likely be April Stojak, who stopped 28 shots for Ohio State to gain the shutout last year. But the Buckeyes have split time this year at goalie between Stojak and junior-transfer Emily Hudak.

“We’re not sure who we’ll see,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “They’re both really good goalies.”

Freshman Jeni Creary is third in the WCHA in points with eight goals and four assists in six games.

“We definitely need to be aware of her,” Halldorson said. “But overall their strength the last couple years has been how well they play together and how disciplined they are in their systems.”