Minnesota gets the Buckeyes, then a break

Minnesota will conclude what has been a spectacular first half at home.

Samuel Gordon

The word âÄúdominanceâÄù is synonymous with Shaquille OâÄôNeal in his prime, a young Mike Tyson or Michael Jordan in the fourth quarter.

Oh, and the GopherâÄôs womenâÄôs hockey team, too.

After back-to-back road series, the No. 2 Gophers (15-3, 9-3 WCHA) will conclude a dominant first half of the season with a home series versus Ohio State. Then the team will take a break until Wisconsin comes to town Jan. 6.

Minnesota has crushed a majority of its opponents throughout the first half and is in the top-three nationally in numerous major statistical categories.

The Gophers are first nationally in goals-against average (1.22), third on the penalty kill (killing 88.8 percent of penalties) and fourth in scoring margin (3.44).

Minnesota head coach Brad Frost credited the stellar play of his defense as the biggest reason for the teamâÄôs early season success.

âÄúOur overall defensive play [has been key], both with our backchecking and then with our D being able to keep their gap up,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôve blocked a lot more shots this year. WeâÄôve played much better in our zone and coming back to our net.âÄù

That being said, thereâÄôs still one more series to play, and forward Sarah Davis said she is relieved that itâÄôs at home.

âÄúI canâÄôt wait to play at home again. IâÄôm kind of getting sick of traveling,âÄù Davis said, âÄúbut Ohio State is a good team. WeâÄôve got to focus on that mostly.âÄù

Ohio State hasnâÄôt historically been a good team, but the Buckeyes have taken a step forward this year.

Ohio State has improved under first-year head coach Nate Handrahan. The Buckeyes, who were 14-19-3 in 2010-11, are 9-5-2 this season and are on track for just their second winning season in program history.

The Gophers have a 46-7-1 all-time record against Ohio State and were 6-0 against the Buckeyes last season, but Minnesota isnâÄôt taking them lightly.

âÄúThey have some pretty talented players. They know what theyâÄôre doing for sure,âÄù Davis said.

The most talented of the bunch is forward Natalie Spooner. The senior has been named to the All-WCHA team each of the past two seasons. She has 16 goals this season, tied for fourth in the conference.

âÄú[SpoonerâÄôs] got great size, great speed. She can score. SheâÄôs just an incredibly powerful player,âÄù Frost said. âÄúShe has the ability to take over a game.âÄù

The WCHA is littered with some of the nationâÄôs elite forwards, so defending a player of SpoonerâÄôs caliber is nothing new for the Gophers.

Freshman defenseman Rachel Ramsey said the team will not divert from its regular game plan.

âÄúWeâÄôre not going to take one player too lightly, but weâÄôre not going to think about one too much either,âÄù she said.

Frost said that after the series, players will have a break to rest and recover from the seasonâÄôs first half and prepare for finals.

TheyâÄôll be given a workout program and will be encouraged to follow it, but the team wonâÄôt resume official practices until the end of December.