Gophers women’s hockey faces tough schedule including opener against Ohio State

The Gophers face three of the top four WCHA teams in their eight-game slate.

Photo+Courtesy+of+Gopher+Athletics

Brad Rempel

Photo Courtesy of Gopher Athletics

Matthew Kennedy

The Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team enters the shortened 2020-21 season ranked No. 4 in the nation.

The Gophers will play four two-game series versus the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers, the No. 8 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, and the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes. The Gophers will play Ohio both home and away.

Head coach Brad Frost spoke to the team’s challenging schedule in the 2020-21 season.

“Obviously these are some of the three best teams in the country that we are playing so it’ll be a great challenge,” he said. “Quite frankly, as a team, we could care less about who we play, we just want to play. We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to step out on the ice this year due to unique circumstances.”

What is especially daunting about the Gophers’ opponents is every team they face has at least one player in the All-WCHA preseason team. For the team’s opening series against Ohio State, the Buckeyes return leading point scorer in Emma Maltais and goaltender Andrea Braendli who are both featured on the All-WCHA preseason squad.

The Gophers are returning their starting blue line from a season ago in Olivia Knowles and Emily Brown. Brown was the sole Gopher representing Minnesota on the All-WCHA squad. The team also returns its top-three goal scorers from a season ago in Grace Zumwinkle, Taylor Heise and Amy Potomak. Frost also is welcoming a big freshman class with open arms.

“We’re really excited about our class; there’s seven of them, which is a bigger one compared to other years. We have some dynamic players in Abbey Murphy, Anne Cherkowski, Maggie Nicholson, and more which will provide needed depth,” Frost said. “As coaches we expect them to receive a lot of experience and playing time this year.”

Frost also thinks Murphy is the most dynamic freshman in the country, noting she has “great speed, has a knack for scoring and plays with a chip on her shoulder.”

“She’s a special player and will continue to be electrifying. People will definitely see why she was voted WCHA preseason rookie of the year,” he said.

If Murphy does win WCHA rookie of the year at the season’s conclusion she will be the second straight Gopher to do so, following Madeline Wethington in 2019-20.

The Gophers open their season against Ohio State at Ridder Arena this weekend on Saturday at 3:07 p.m. and Sunday at 2:07 p.m. The team is prepared for a tough opponent.

“They are a fast, uber-talented and hardworking team, yet we have a lot of quick skaters, so in practice we’ve been trying to to have a raised tempo in preparation for this weekend,” Knowles said. “And regardless if we are playing a speedy team like the Buckeyes, we want to get back to playing and practicing like we are competing in crucial games because it has been a while since we all have been in pressurizing, win-loss situations on the ice due to COVID-19.”

Knowles also added the Gophers are adding a lot of “interchangeability” to their lines this season due to unknown circumstances with the pandemic. Players could be forced to miss time if they were to test positive. The expected starting forward line of Heise, Zumwinkle, Potomak with Knowles and Brown anchoring the blue line, could shift at any point this season.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated which teams the Gophers would play home and away games against.