UMN women’s hockey climbs to top of WCHA

The Gophers have been on a tear since their November loss to Yale.

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Ethan Fine

Forward Catie Skaja stickhandles the puck in a game against St. Cloud State on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, at Ridder Arena.

by Eitan Schoenberg

Nov. 26 vs. Yale:
In a defensive collapse in the Henderson Showcase championship, Minnesota fell to former No. 5 Yale by a score of 4-3. The Gophers conceded four goals in the first period, the most goals the team has allowed in a single period this season.

This crushing loss caused Minnesota to fall to fifth place on the USCHO rankings and sixth the following week. Already in a slump following their series loss to Wisconsin in late November, Minnesota’s drop in the rankings seemed warranted.

To kick off December, however, Minnesota swept consecutive Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) series to move them back up to No. 5 on the USCHO rankings. Minnesota took down Minnesota State and St. Cloud in those two series and ended 2022 with a statement 9-0 over the former No. 14 St. Cloud Huskies.

Jan. 6 vs. Merrimack:
After a long hiatus, the Gophers opened the New Year with the East and West showcase, first hosting unranked Merrimack.

Nelli Laitinen returned to the Gophers lineup after being sidelined for two months with an injury. Less than seven minutes into the game, Laitinen scored the opening goal on a one-timer for her third goal of the season.

Taylor Heise followed up in the early stages of the second period, stuffing home a rebound in the crease.

A two-goal game quickly became a six-goal game. The Gophers scored four unanswered goals in less than two minutes. The floodgates opened with a Catie Skaja power play goal, which was quickly succeeded by Heise’s second goal of the game. Grace Zumwinkle and Madison Kaiser added to the lead, scoring their 14th and fourth goals of the season, respectively.

In the final two minutes, Heise scored her third goal of the game to complete the hat trick.

Minnesota marched over Merrimack 9-2.

Jan. 7 vs. New Hampshire:
Minnesota hosted unranked New Hampshire at Ridder Arena for a late afternoon matchup the following day.

Skaja opened the scoring less than five minutes in, marking her second goal of the weekend.

On the Gophers’ first power play of the game, senior blue liner Madeline Wethington ripped a one-timer from the point that beat New Hampshire goaltender Ava Boutilier. Wethington’s goal was her first goal of the season.

Late in the second period, Abbey Murphy managed to bury a loose puck to give Minnesota a 5-1 lead. Murphy would later score again for her second goal of the game to extend the lead to 7-1.

The night was not yet over as Zumwinkle would score her second goal of the game and 100th goal of her collegiate career.

Senior Makayla Pahl notched her third win of the season with 15 saves — and even tallied her first assist of the season — as Minnesota pummeled New Hampshire 8-1.

Jan. 13 vs. St. Thomas:
Minnesota faced St. Thomas for the first time this season for an evening game at Ridder Arena.

Despite scoring her 100th collegiate goal in her last game, Zumwinkle was hungry for more, scoring the first two goals of the game. This was her second consecutive game with two goals.

Murphy, Peyton Hemp and Josefin Bouveng would all manage a tally, bringing the final score to 5-0.

Jan. 14 vs. St. Thomas:
Less than a minute into the Gophers’ second game against the Tommies, Abigail Boreen ripped a shot past goaltender Saskia Maurer to give Minnesota an early lead. Heise’s assist on the opening goal gave the fifth-year her 200th collegiate point for the maroon and gold.

St. Thomas tied the game two minutes later, and the game remained deadlocked until the second period.

Heise would notch her second point of the game early in the second period to put Minnesota back on top.

Ella Huber followed, extending the Gophers’ lead to two goals. Skaja’s assist on the goal allowed her to reach 100 collegiate points, marking two individual career milestones in one game for Minnesota.

Boreen sealed the game with her second goal late in the third period, capping off Minnesota’s 4-1 win over St. Thomas.

The Gophers have now swept seven WCHA series and maintain a perfect 12-0 record at home.

Additionally, Minnesota surpassed No. 1 Ohio State in the conference standings. After their recent series victory, the Gophers hold a one-point advantage over the Buckeyes with the same number of games played.

In USCHO’s last two rankings, Minnesota has been listed at No. 3. The Gophers will have a great chance to top the charts in their upcoming series matchups. Minnesota will face three top-five teams in Minnesota-Duluth, Ohio State and Wisconsin in the coming weeks.