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Beginner’s guide to 2023 Gophers women’s hockey season

Catch up on the season so far and learn about the key aspects of the team.
Image by University of Minnesota Athletics
Gopher women’s hockey player Taylor Heise.

Gophers women’s hockey is a storied program with many recent achievements. Across seven national championships and a handful of recent professional draft picks, they are among the most notably successful teams in the NCAA.

For newer hockey fans looking to follow the Gophers, here are the key pieces to learn.

General season structure

The Gophers are a part of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). All in-conference games are against the seven other opponents within the division.

Once a league for both men’s and women’s hockey, the WCHA now operates only as a women’s league.

Teams in the WCHA play 28 games against their in-conference opponents and eventually compete for the four spots in the WCHA Final Faceoff.

Games within the WCHA are played in a two-game series format between two teams. Most series are structured where one team hosts both games, however, Minnesota plays a home-and-away structure against certain in-state opponents.

Every season, the Gophers play a handful of out-of-conference teams either in standalone series or as a part of showcases or tournaments.

This season, for example, Minnesota will play in the “D1 in DC” tournament after Thanksgiving and will face out-of-state opponents Harvard and Cornell.

A quick season recap

The Gophers hold a record of seven wins and two losses this season.

They began the year with a five-game winning streak before being swept by WCHA opponent Ohio State.

In response, the Gophers swept in-state opponent Minnesota State-Mankato in a home-and-away series.

Minnesota sits in fourth place in the WCHA standings behind Minnesota Duluth, Ohio State and the reigning NCAA champions, Wisconsin.

The Gophers are also ranked fourth in the U.S. College Hockey Online national polls. Minnesota was ranked third in the season’s first poll back in September but has been fourth ever since.

Key players to know

Abbey Murphy, a third-year forward who wears number 18, headlines the Gophers’ roster.

Murphy leads the NCAA in goals per game, scoring an average of 1.11. She has scored in six of Minnesota’s nine games this season, including a hat trick against St. Thomas in October.

Ella Huber, a high-scoring third-year forward who wears number 26, said Murphy has matured as a player in a press conference in early November.

“She knew what she had to do,” Huber said.

Huber spoke about Murphy’s past struggle with committing penalties in retaliation to opponents. She said Murphy has done a good job at improving in that sense.

Likewise, Head coach Brad Frost also said Murphy has been able to limit her retaliatory penalties in a press conference on Nov. 1.

“Overall, she’s just continuing to mature,” Frost said. “I haven’t seen a better player in the country than her.”

Huber has also been a top contributor in points for the Gophers this year, putting up 11 points in nine games.

Finnish defender Nelli Laitinen, a second-year who wears number 7, has been a staple for the Gophers both defensively and offensively. She earned a WCHA Defender of the Week honor from her performance on the ice in late October.

Skylar Vetter, a third-year who wears number 31, is Minnesota’s starting goaltender. Vetter has been a key part of the Gophers’ success throughout the season, including moments when she made up to 46 saves in a single game.

First-year forwards Emma Kreisz and Ava Lindsay were two players Frost called attention to in a press conference on Nov. 1.

“They continue to get better each weekend,” Frost said.

Kreisz, who wears number 13, and Lindsay, who wears number 9, each have six points to start the year.

Brief team history: recent and historic

Since 2012, the Gophers have won four national championships, going back-to-back two separate times.

The last time Minnesota made the national championship game was in 2019 when they lost to Wisconsin.

Last season, the Gophers made it to the semifinals but lost to Wisconsin in overtime. However, Minnesota did win the WCHA Final Faceoff championship by defeating Ohio State.

The Gophers have seven other WCHA Final Faceoff championships dating back to their first in 2002. Minnesota has also finished with the best record in the WCHA in 11 different seasons.

Madeline Wethington, a graduate defender who wears number 5, said the team has developed a motivated identity to start the season.

“I think a lot of people doubt us and I think people are not expecting us to perform as well as we did last year,” Wethington said in a press conference on Oct. 24. “That just motivates us to work harder and get better.”

After a two-week break, the Gophers will travel to Duluth to face the Bulldogs in an in-conference matchup on Nov. 17 and 18.

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