The Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team takes the ice for the first time in nearly four weeks Friday night as they will close out the non-conference portion of their schedule by hosting the East/West Showcase at Ridder Arena. Minnesota and St. Cloud State will represent the west while New Hampshire and Merrimack represent the east. Each western team will play one game against each eastern team either Friday or Saturday with all four games at Ridder Arena.
Minnesota returns to play ranked fourth in the USCHO.com poll and 5th in the USA hockey poll. They Gophers currently sit in a tie with #1 Ohio State for first place in the WCHA each with 41 points through 16 conference games played. After this weekend they close out the schedule with 12 consecutive WCHA games including two huge series in February at home against Ohio State and Wisconsin that will go a long way to determining the top three teams in the final standings. But this weekend they look to get back into play against their eastern non-conference foes.
The Gophers will open up their weekend Friday night against Merrimack. The Warriors currently are 7-13-1 on the season and are 4-11-1 in Hockey East play placing them in ninth place out of ten teams. They are led in scoring by Lake Elmo native and Hill-Murray grad Katie Kaufman who has 15 points in 21 games and in goal scoring by Alexa Pongo who has 8 goals in 21 games. in goal the Warriors split time between Emma Gorski and Callie Hogarth. Hogarth has better stats with a 2.76 goals against average and a .918 save percentage compared to Gorski’s 3.05 and .903. Minnesota is 1-1 all time against Merrimack after splitting a season opening series in 2017.
Saturday afternoon the Gophers host New Hampshire who is 7-14 on the season and 5-11 in Hockey East putting them in 8th place just ahead of Merrimack. The Wildcats are led in scoring by Emily Pinto with 15 points while Kira Judoikis has 7 goals to lean UNH on the season. I goal it has been a split between Plymouth, MN native Nicky Harnett and Ave Boutillier. Harnett has the better stats with a 2.07 goals against and a .921 save percentage compared to 2.89 and .902 for Boutillier. Minnesota is 10-5-3 all time against New Hampshire with the last meeting a Gopher win in 2012.
Minnesota continues to be led by reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner Taylor Heise. Heise was named the National Player of the Month for December for the third time in her career after she tallied 15 points in only four games. Heise matched a career-high in points twice in the month with five points against Minnesota State on Dec. 3 and against No. 14 St. Cloud State on Dec. 10. Heise leads the Gophers with 13 goals and 34 points and now ranks 10th all time in career points with 194. Heise trails Gigi Marvin by one point for ninth place all-time and is six points away from becoming the ninth Gopher to reach 200 career points.
In net Minnesota has been led by the steady hand of sophomore Skyler Vetter. Vetter was also named the National Player of the Month for December after posting a perfect 4-0-0 record against Minnesota State and No. 14 St. Cloud State while only allowing one goal on 68 shots throughout the month. She recorded shutouts in her last three games and currently has an ongoing active shutout streak of 226:23.
The Gophers also made news this week by appearing to secure their future by naming Gopher alum and current assistant coach Natalie Darwitz as Associate Head Coach. While the terms of the promotion were not released, it sure appears to set up Darwitz as the potential successor to Brad Frost should he decide to pull a Hugh McCutcheon in the near future.
Both Minnesota games this weekend will be streamed live on BTN+. The Gophers take on Merrimack at 6 PM Friday and New Hampshire at 4:30 Saturday. St. Cloud State will play the opposite eastern teams at 2:30 PM Friday and 1:00 PM Saturday and tickets are good for both games on each day.