Fresh off of a four point weekend in the #2 vs #1 battle in Columbus that propelled the Minnesota Gophers past the Buckeyes as the new #1 ranked team in the nation, the Gophers will need to work to defend that ranking as they host #5 Minnesota-Duluth. The Gophers will be out for revenge as the last time these two teams played it was UMD who came out victorious in a 2-1 NCAA Quarterfinal matchup last March at Ridder Arena. The Bulldogs would go on to lose to Ohio State in the NCAA Championship game, while the Gophers could only stay home and watch. The vast majority of the players on the ice last March return this weekend, and Minnesota definitely holds a grudge.
Minnesota is the lone undefeated team in the WCHA entering the weekend with a 7-0-1 record. last weekend Minnesota used a three goal third period to rally for a 4-2 win over the Buckeyes on Friday, but Ohio State got revenge as the Gophers gave up three different leads on Saturday to force a 4-4 tie. The Buckeyes would earn the extra conference point in the shootout. The Gophers got a round team effort as four different players scored on Friday night for Minnesota. On Saturday Abbey Murphy picked up another pair of goals, while Taylor Heise made it two on the weekend scoring one in each game. Minnesota did not do a good enough job at limiting Ohio State defender Sophie Jacques from hurting them once again as she scored three goals on the weekend including the third and fourth for the Buckeyes on Saturday that tied the game both times.
The Gophers did bring home some WCHA hardware for their efforts as Heise was named the WCHA Forward of the Week and Vetter the WCHA Goalie of the Week. Vetter then made it a double as she was named the WCHA Goalie of the Month for October and was joined by Murphy as the WCHA Forward of the Month for October.
The Gophers now turn their sites to a UMD team that is battle tested. The Bulldogs come in at 7-3 on the season, but their only losses have been to the cream of the crop in the WCHA—a pair of single goal losses at Ohio State two weekends ago, and then a home split with #3 Wisconsin last weekend. UMD lost star grad transfer Elizabeth Giguere to graduation, but still returns a very dangerous roster with a very dangerous goalie. Gabbie Hughes leads the team with 14 points on the season. She has tormented the Gophers in her five years as a Bulldog. UMD got a huge Olympic returner back in Ashton Bell. Bell who was centralized with the Canadian team last year leads UMD in goals with 6 and is second on the team in points with 10.
The biggest weapon the Bulldogs have is goalie Emma Soderberg. She was the reason why UMD eliminated Minnesota from the NCAA Tournament a season ago making spectacular save after save. She has started every game this season for UMD and brings in a 1.52 goals against average and a .928 save percentage to Ridder Arena.
For Minnesota, they will need to the continued great play from their top line of Heise, Abigail Boreen and Catie Skaja, and the second line of Murphy, Grace Zumwinkle and Emily Oden. Murphy and Zumwinkle are tied for the team lead in points with 14, while Murphy has one more goal to lead the Gophers with eight. Heise and the rest of the ducklings line are right behind with 11,9 and 9 points each. Add in a third line that can score as well with Swedish freshman Josefin Bouveng and super sophomore Peyton Hemp who each have four goals on the year and Minnesota is rolling offensively. Only Wisconsin is scoring more than Minnesota’s 5.5 goals per game.
Meanwhile Vetter has emerged as a true #1 goalie for the Gophers. Facing her toughest task of her career she picked up a win and tie last weekend and enters this weekend with a 5-0-1 record with a 1.35 GAA and a .935 save percentage. If she can keep those numbers up, there is no reason why Minnesota can’t ride her to back to back regular season WCHA titles.
Following the series with the Bulldogs, the Gophers will play in the US Hockey Hall of Fame Museum Women’s Face off Classic on Monday. The Gophers will take on St. Cloud State in what is technically a non-conference game between the two WCHA teams at the Andover, Minnesota Community Center. Minnesota swept St. Cloud State in a home and home series two weekends ago.
The series between the Gophers and the Bulldogs will kick off at 6:00 PM Friday night, with the second game Saturday at 2:00PM. Both game swill stream live on BTN+. The Hall of Fame Classic will be played at 7 PM Monday night and will also stream on BTN+.