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Familiar first-round foe for Gophers women’s hockey

Minnesota will face St. Thomas in the WCHA first round for the second consecutive year.
The Gophers will face off against Mankato next on Friday and Saturday.
Image by Kamaan Richards
The Gophers will face off against Mankato next on Friday and Saturday.

Minnesota will host St. Thomas at Ridder Arena Friday, Saturday and potentially Sunday to open the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) playoffs for the second consecutive season.

St. Thomas, unranked, finished the 2022-23 WCHA regular season with a measly 12 points and a 3-24-1 conference record. This point total was good enough for seventh place in the WCHA, placing the Tommies ahead of Bemidji State.

Minnesota, on the other hand, finished the regular season with a 23-3-3 conference record, landing second place in the WCHA standings.

Deja vu in the WCHA first round

Last season, the Tommies had nearly the same record (3-23-1) as this season. However, they only managed to collect 10 points in the 2021-22 regular season, landing them dead last in the WCHA.

Conversely, Minnesota put up an impressive 21-6-1 record and 68 points, winning the WCHA regular season title. Heading into the playoffs, the Gophers were ranked on top of the NCAA at No. 1 on the USCHO rankings.

The WCHA’s playoff format set the two teams up for a first-round matchup at Ridder Arena.

Minnesota swept St. Thomas with two commanding wins, both by a margin of 4 goals. The Gophers would go on to beat Minnesota Duluth in the semi-finals but fall to Ohio State in the championship game.

A head-to-head comparison for this season

Minnesota played four games – two series with two games in each series – against St. Thomas in 2023, winning all four games and sweeping both series.

The Gophers won their first two January matchups convincingly by 3 or more goals. However, when the two teams met in the final regular season series this past weekend, St. Thomas managed to keep it close.

The Game 1 win took overtime and Game 2 was close from start to finish. Though Minnesota won both games, St. Thomas proved they can compete.

Minnesota only managed to score 6 goals against St. Thomas in their most recent series, the third-lowest combined goal totals the Gophers have had in a WCHA series this season.

So how does a team like Minnesota, who has the most goals scored in the WCHA, only put up 6 against a team like St. Thomas? The Tommies’ goaltenders are key.

Sophomore goaltender Saskia Maurer held down the fort for St. Thomas in Game 1, making 53 saves on 55 Gopher shots. Senior Alexa Dobchuk would top Maurer’s performance in terms of saves, recording 55 saves on 59 shots in the following game.

Both goalies, Dobchuk and Maurer, are at the top of the WCHA in saves per game, averaging 36.42 and 36.14 saves. Of the two, Maurer has the better save percentage at .912, while Dobchuk has a .892.

Minnesota’s high-powered offense will have to figure out a way to solve St. Thomas’ goaltenders this weekend.

The Gophers have the top four scorers in the WCHA with Abbey Murphy, Abigail Boreen, Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle.

On Thursday morning, Heise and Zumwinkle were named to the All-WCHA First Team, while Boreen, Murphy and the Gophers’ goaltender Skylar Vetter were named to the All-WCHA Third Team.

Minnesota will hope to utilize its scoring prowess and replicate last season’s first-round sweep of St. Thomas, starting with Game 1 on Friday night at Ridder Arena. Game 2 will be Saturday afternoon and Game 3, if necessary, will be on Sunday afternoon.

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