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Gophers women’s hockey facing toughest span of the season

Within the next two-and-a-half weeks, Minnesota will face three of the 10 top teams in the nation — including No. 1 Ohio State.
Image by Ethan Fine
Forward Audrey Wethington drives the puck down the ice during Minnesota’s game against St. Cloud, Feb. 11, 2022.

The Gophers will travel this weekend to Duluth to take on the No. 6 ranked Duluth Bulldogs. Duluth is currently riding a nine-game winning streak, including a sweep over No. 8 Wisconsin and a win over No. 1 Ohio State. Within this nine-game stretch, the Bulldogs have shut out three opponents and scored 39 goals.

The last time these two teams met was in the first week of November when Minnesota swept the Bulldogs in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) matchup. The series saw two high-paced and close games, a 3-2 overtime victory first and then a 5-3 win with the Gophers scoring two goals in 10 seconds.

Duluth will be the highest-ranked opponent the Gophers have faced since No. 5-ranked Yale back in late November. The last time Minnesota took on a ranked opponent was in early December when the Gophers dominated No. 14-ranked St. Cloud State.

The series against the Bulldogs is just the beginning of what seems to be the toughest stretch of the Gophers’ season so far.

After Minnesota takes on Minnesota Duluth, No. 1 Ohio State comes to town.

The Buckeyes have been a force to be reckoned with. They boast a 22-2-2 overall record and a 17-2-1 record within the WCHA. Jennifer Gardiner and Sophie Jaques lead Ohio State’s high-powered offense. Their offensive group averages an impressive 42.15 shots on goal per game and has the best power play in the WCHA with a 32.9% success rate.

Winning this series is crucial for the Gophers because they could reclaim the No. 1 title on the USCHO rankings and build on their lead in first place of the WCHA.

The last time the Buckeyes and the Gophers met was in late October. Minnesota took the first of two games in regulation and the second in a shootout. Following the series win, Minnesota surpassed Ohio State in the USCHO rankings to claim No. 1. Since then, however, the Gophers have fallen to No. 3, while the Buckeyes climbed back to the top.
After dealing with Ohio State, Minnesota will have one final test: Wisconsin.

Minnesota was perfect in WCHA play until they traveled to Madison on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

In the first game of the series, Minnesota prevailed in a shootout thanks to the heroics of Abbey Murphy and Skylar Vetter. Unfortunately, the Gophers’ luck ran out in game two when the Badgers stunned the visitors 4-1. The defeat was Minnesota’s second regulation loss of the season.

Minnesota will have a shot at redemption at the end of this intense stretch when Wisconsin visits Ridder Arena the second weekend of February.

USCHO ranking concerns aside, these three series will be incredibly important for the WCHA playoffs.

A poor performance could lead to Minnesota falling to third in their conference, potentially setting them up with a conference playoff matchup versus St. Cloud State. The Huskies are one of three teams to beat Minnesota in regulation this season and did so in convincing fashion with a 4-1 victory.

This could also affect their standing in the NCAA tournament in March. Minnesota could fail to receive an automatic bid if they don’t win the WCHA playoffs, which may cause them some trouble in the first round of the tournament.

Duluth upset the Gophers in the quarter-finals last season so there is no telling what could happen in the playoffs.

On the upside, a hot streak to close off the regular season could put Minnesota in a prime position to win the WCHA championship and benefit them in the NCAA tournament.

Only time will tell the outcome of this strenuous upcoming schedule and the remainder of the Gophers’ season.

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