Women’s hockey looks to get back into a set rhythm

by Noah Seligman

Before the start of the second period in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota State-Mankato, Minnesota women’s hockey freshman defender Danielle Ashley was tapping her skate in time to the “Minnesota Rouser,” played by the pep band.

While the musical score was pleasant, the final score was not for the Gophers, and it highlighted some of the challenges the team will face in the upcoming weeks.

The team is undergoing a period of transition and it doesn’t have much time to adapt.

With a restructured line chart, the Gophers hope to change quickly and recapture some of their offensive punch.

The squad finished the first half of WCHA play ranked first in scoring offense averaging 4.60 goals per game and first on the power play with a 37.5 percent conversion rate as of Jan 4.

Now, Minnesota is tied for first with Minnesota-Duluth in scoring offense – four goals per game – and still holds the top spot in power-play percentage at 29.2 percent. But Minnesota is under a 30 percent conversion rate for the first time all season.

“Part of that is the effect of the loss of those two players who were both very talented offensively,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “The other aspect is the fact that we had to shuffle our lineup, so we did not have the same continuity.”

The Gophers are hit hardest on the power play. Wall ran the point position from the blueline, and Darwitz played on the wing.

“It’s a question of putting new people in positions with no time to practice between weekends,” Halldorson said.

Ashley took Wall’s place, and junior forward Noelle Sutton has performed admirably for Darwitz, tallying her second power-play goal in as many weeks.

But the Gophers struggled overall on the power play, and were unable to cycle the puck low as often as in previous games. They also settled for more shots from the blueline rather than working in close for short-range attempts.

“The more distance we get from the loss of the two players the more we’ll settle into our lineup,” Halldorson said. “We’ll continue to find the right combinations.”

While no one is hitting the panic button, the Gophers need to get back in rhythm with second-ranked Dartmouth and fifth-ranked Wisconsin both coming to Ridder Arena in the next three weeks.

When all else fails, Minnesota wants to increase its tempo, with the hopes of higher offensive numbers.

“I think our team thrives on our speed, and I think we play off each other well,” sophomore forward Krissy Wendell said. “One of our teams’ strengths is our speed, so we want to use it to our advantage as much as we can.”