The #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey team will need to defeat both #5 Ohio State and the weather conditions this weekend to remain the top ranked team in the nation. Not only will Minnesota face a tough opponent in the Buckeyes, but both team will face full Minnesota winter conditions when they play outside on Saturday afternoon at Parade Stadium in Minneapolis for Hockey Day In Minnesota.
The Gophers moved back to the top of both the WCHA standings and the NCAA polls after a weekend sweep of St. Cloud State. Minnesota earned 4-1 and 3-0 victories on the back of senior goalie Sydney Scobee who earned her sixth shutout of the season and saved 48 of the 49 shots she faced on the weekend. Freshman defenseman Madeline Wethington earned her second straight WCHA Freshman of the Week award with another three point performance against the Huskies. Minnesota jumped ahead of the now #2 Wisconsin Badgers after the Badgers were upset by Bemidji State last Saturday in Bemidji. Minnesota leads Wisconsin by two points in the conference standings heading into this weekend’s games.
Minnesota will have a tough task trying to gain all points from the Buckeyes this weekend. Minnesota’s only loss in regulation on the season came to the Buckeyes in Columbus back in October. Since losing to Minnesota in the series finale in Columbus the Buckeyes have gone 11-2-1 in their last 14 games dropping games only to #4 Cornell and #6 Princeton. Seven Buckeyes will be returning home to Minnesota to face the Gophers on Hockey Day in Minnesota. Along with the players it will be a reunion for the coaching staff as all three of the Buckeyes coaches are Gopher alums.
The Buckeyes come in on a scoring hot streak after outscoring Mankato State 14-4 in a sweep of the Mavericks last weekend. Emma Maltais leads the team with 38 points on the season and is second on the Buckeyes team with 15 goals. Mound native Liz Schepers leads Ohio State with 17 goals on the season—and has been a Gopher killer. She scored two goals in the Buckeyes win over Minnesota in October. The Buckeyes will most likely start Andrea Braendli in net for both games. She has a .909 save percentage and gives up 2.31 goals per game on average.
The two teams will play a normal game Friday night inside the comfortable confines of Ridder Arena, but will get completely turned around when they will face off outdoors in the makeshift rink at Parade Stadium in Minneapolis Saturday afternoon for Hockey Day in Minnesota. It is the first time the Gophers will officially play in a HDM event and it will be the second ever outdoors game for the Gopher women. Their other outdoors game ended in a 4-0 win over Mankato in the Hockey City Classic held at TCF Bank Stadium in January of 2014. While it’s true both teams will need to evenly deal with the conditions, it will not be the best possible conditions for a game between top five teams in the country. While the 6-8 inches of snow the Twin Cities are expected to get by Saturday afternoon is expected to be done falling, sustained wins are predicted to be in the 20-25 mile per hour range with gusts upwards of 40-45 MPH. You would just hate to see a game that could possible determine both the winner of the WCHA and have strong implications on NCAA Tournament seeding be determined by crappy weather conditions. But...here we are.
The schedule gets no easier for Minnesota as after this weekend they head to Madison for a rematch against the Badgers next weekend. These four games will most likely go a long way to determining if the Gophers can win the WCHA regular season crown and the top seed heading into the WCHA Tournament at the end of February.
Friday’s game will face off at 6PM and will stream on BTN+, while Saturday’s game will face off at 4:30 PM and will air live on Fox Sports North and can be streamed on Fox Sports Go.