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Gophers women’s hockey season preview

The Gophers down Bemidji State University at Ridder Arena for their first two conference games.
Image by Ethan Fine
Captain Taylor Heise is returning for her fifth season as a Gopher.

Gophers women’s hockey opened their season on Sept. 24 against the University of Manitoba Bisons. The Bisons—based in Winnipeg, Manitoba—traveled across the border to face the Gophers at Ridder Arena. This near-500-mile expedition ended rather poorly for the Bisons as the Gophers dominated and won 13-0.

Following their win against Manitoba, the Gophers faced the Minnesota Whitecaps of the Premier Hockey Federation in another exhibition game. The Gophers had a much more competitive game, prevailing by a score of 4-2.

On Friday and Saturday, the Gophers had their first two Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) matchups against Bemidji State University. The Beavers came to Ridder Arena with a 2-1-1 record in their exhibition games. Minnesota swept the series, winning 6-0 and 4-1. Last season, the Gophers had a perfect run against the Beavers as Minnesota outscored the Beavers by a total of 20-6 in their four victories.

Heading into this season, the Gophers are ranked number two in the U.S. College Hockey Online (USCHO) rankings. Above Minnesota is the reigning National and WCHA Tournament Champions, Ohio State University. The Gophers don’t face the Buckeyes until the end of October when they travel to Columbus. Minnesota has sights to avenge their WCHA Championship loss; Ohio State topped Minnesota 3-2 in overtime.

The following weekend, the Gophers will have another opportunity for revenge as they face the University of Minnesota–Duluth at home. The Bulldogs upset the Gophers in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament 2-1. Duluth made it to the NCAA Championship, where they fell to the Buckeyes 2-3. In the USCHO’s preseason rankings, Duluth was ranked fourth.

Fifth-year Lizi Norton transferred to the Gophers after defeating them with Minnesota Duluth in last year’s NCAA quarterfinals. Alongside Norton, a handful of new faces will grace Ridder Arena this season. Newcomers include Madison Kaiser, Allie Franco, Nelli Laitinen and Josefin Bouveng.

Kaiser and Franco are products of the Minnesota High School Hockey League, and both were in contention for the 2022 Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award. Neither Kaiser nor Franco won the award, but Kaiser was a finalist. Kaiser represented Team USA in the 2022 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) U18 Championships and won silver. In five tournament games, Kaiser registered five points, scoring one goal and notching four assists.

Minnesota brought in some international talent as well with Laitinen and Bouveng. Both participated in the 2022 Beijing Olympics; Bouveg hailing from Sweden and Laitinen winning the bronze medal with Finland. Laitinen was a point-per-game in the Olympic Games, an incredible accomplishment for the young defender.

Laitinen and Bouveng also played in the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship with Gophers’ captain Taylor Heise. The captain was named Most Valuable Player in the tournament and won silver with Team USA.

Heise returned for her fifth season as a Gopher. Last season she boasted numerous awards: WCHA Player of the Year, the Patty Kazmaier Award and First Team All-American. In addition to her awards, Heise led the WCHA in goals, assists and points.

Abbey Murphy also returns to the Gophers after sitting out last season. Murphy represented Team USA in the 2022 Winter Olympics and registered one point in Team USA’s silver medal finish.

Quite the season is on the horizon for the Gophers. Minnesota comes into the year with the 2021-22 WCHA regular season title. The team also looks to win their first NCAA championship since 2016 when they defeated Boston College 3-1. Since their title run, Minnesota has recorded 24 or more wins per season (not including the abbreviated 2020-21 season). Already 2-0 this season, the Gophers’ journey back to the NCAA Tournament has begun.

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