The Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey team has begun the 2019-20 season looking to get back to the top of the mountain once again. Minnesota came tantalizingly close last season before falling in the NCAA Championship game to their arch rival Wisconsin Badgers after trading the top two sports in the polls and pairwise all season long. You will be shocked to know that to begin the 19-20 season the top two teams in the polls are...Wisconsin and Minnesota. Both teams lost lots of quality players, but both return a large portion of the rosters that got them to the NCAA Championship game a year ago. Here is how the Gophers look as they begin WCHA play this weekend.
Minnesota returns over 70% of it’s scoring from last season including seven of their top ten scorers. Gone are Patty Kazmaier Finalist Nicole Schammel, US Olympian Kelly Pannek and warrior Taylor Williamson, but Minnesota returns a sniper, and two sisters who can put the puck in the net. Junior Grace Zumwinkle recorded 41 points for the Gophers a season ago including 25 goals. She will see action on the top power play unit and will play on the second line with another offensive power in sophomore Taylor Heise. Heise who was second in the WCHA in scoring as a freshman a year ago with 35 points will play center with senior Alex Woken joining the pair on the left side.
The Gophers first line will be the pots part of the “pots and pan” like from a year ago. Senior Sarah Potomak enters the season as the Gophers active leading scorer and will try and go out with a bang in her senior year after an injury riddled junior season that saw her numbers significantly regress. Her sister Amy enters her sophomore season ready to advance on a freshman year that saw her score 31 points. The two sisters will be centered by Junior Taylor Wente who hopefully will be the playmaking teammate the Potomaks need to get the puck in the back of the net.
Minnesota once again will have one of the best third lines in the country. A sophomore trio of Catie Skeja, Emily Oden and Abigail Boreen will look to provide offense. Oden had 21 points as a freshman for the Gophers in 2018-19, and Skeja added 13. They will be looked to definitely increase those numbers this season.
The Gophers fourth line is anchored by two seniors and a freshman. Kippen Keller returns to action after suffering a knee injury that kept her out of the season half of last year. She’s jointed by Katie Robinson who has played both defense and forward for the Gophers over her three years, and freshman Sidney Shearen from White Bear Lake.
The Gophers return five defensemen who saw regular time a season ago. Sophie Skarzynski has graduated, but Minnesota has one of the best freshmen in the country to step into her role. The top Gopher defensive pair for the second year in a row will be a pair of juniors in Emily Brown and Olivia Knowles. Both players are a bit more offensive minded and can play the puck well. Brown was second in the WCHA in scoring by a defenseman with 27 points
The second D-pair will include senior Patti Marshall and freshman Madeline Wethington. Marshall came into her own last season and added a real offensive threat to her game. She was 5th in the WCHA with 21 points on the season, She is now paired with the Preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year selection in Wethington. The Blake graduate played for three seasons on the US U-18 National team and can both be an offensive threat and a defensive stopper. She scored the first goal of the season for the Gophers in their win over Colgate last Friday. Wethington comes from great genes as well as she is cousins with the Brodt family—one of the most notable families in women’s hockey in Minnesota.
The third defensive pair is another set of returners from last season. Sophomores Gracie Ostertag and Crystalyn Hengler will look to improve on their freshman seasons where they scored six and nine points respectively.
Minnesota is incredibly deep at the goalie position heading into the 2019-20 season. Junior Alex Gulstene returns for her junior season after leading the Gophers to a 20-3 record with a 1.69 goals against average a year ago. Gulstene and senior Sydney Scobee alternated starts down the stretch for Minnesota before Gulstene played both games in the Frozen Four for Minnesota. Gulstene played the first period in Friday’s win over Colgate before leaving the game and did not dress on Saturday.
Scobee enters her senior season with Minnesota looking to try and win the starting job outright. She went 12-3 for Minnesota a year ago and gave up just one goal on 26 shots in five periods of action against Colgate last weekend.
Minnesota also has two freshman goalies this season, one who may push to see action, and the other who most likely will not see the ice this season. Makayla Paul is from Rochester and was the starting goalie the last two season for the US U-18 National team. Gopher coach Brad Frost said it is possible Paul could see some action for Minnesota this season. Meanwhile Olivia King from Brainard most likely will not see action for the Gophers. King was one of the finalists for the best high school goalie in Minnesota a year ago and will provide extra depth at the position for the Gophers.
Minnesota had no trouble last weekend opening the season at home with a pair of wins over the Colgate Raiders. Wethington scored her first career goal for Minnesota on Friday and Sarah Potomak added a goal in the second period to help Minnesota to a 2-0 win. Gulstene got the win despite playing just one period. On Saturday it was all about the offense. Minnesota would take a 8-0 lead before Colgate got a late goal to spoil Scobee’s shutout. The goals came in pairs on Saturday as Knowles, Heise and Zumwinkle all scored a pair of goals. The other two goals were netted by Emily Brown and Sarah Potomak. Knowles would add a pair of assists and be rewarded with the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week Award. No such luck for Heise who also added a pair of assists to give her four points on the weekend.
Minnesota begins WCHA play on the road this weekend when they head down Highway 169 for a pair in Mankato against the Mavericks. Mankato is also 2-0 to start the season with a sweep of RPI last weekend. The Mavericks have one of the better goalies in the conference in Abigail Levy, so Minnesota will not have it too easy this weekend. But the Gophers should not have to worry too much as they are 88-3-3 all time against Mankato. Minnesota has won 43 straight games over the Mavericks—the longest streak in women’s college hockey.