The Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team had dreams a week ago about clinching back to back WCHA Regular Season titles this weekend when they head to 7th place St. Thomas for the final series of the regular season. Then last weekend happened. Wisconsin went into Ridder Arena and dominated the Gophers taking five of a possible six points and turning a two point lead over then second place Ohio State into a three point deficit with a pair of games remaining. The dream of back to back titles for the Gophers is not dead, but it now involves rooting for help from an unlikely source—-those same Wisconsin Badgers.
The Gophers head to St. Thomas this weekend needing a sweep over the Tommies, and then need Wisconsin to win at least one of the games at home against Ohio State to at least get a share of the WCHA title. Minnesota holds the tiebreaker over the Buckeyes due to their 2-1-1 head to head record this season, so they would get the #1 seed in the WCHA playoffs and would host the #8 seed, most likely Bemidji State who has won just two games all year. The Gophers portion of the deal is the most likely as the Gophers have never lost to the Tommies in their six game history. In fact when the Gophers defeated UST 5-0 and 4-1 back in January at Ridder Arena it was the closest ever results between the two schools. St. Thomas has struggled since that weekend going 1-7 down the stretch. Minnesota should easily earn their sweep and then they get to sit back and watch.
Despite last weekend the Gophers remain the highest scoring team in the nation averaging 4.71 goals per game. There is no reason those numbers can’t rise even more as the Gophers have a pair of players in Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle that are vying to be both the top point earner and goal scorer in both the WCHA and in the nation. Currently heise is first in the conference and second in the nation in points with 53, with Zumwinkle right being with 51. Colgate’s Danielle Serdachny leads the nation with 58 points. It’s a three-way battle for the nations goal leader as Heise has 23, one back of Stonehill’s Alexis Pettiford with 24. Right behind in third place are both Zumwinkle and Abbey Murphy who have 22 goals on the season. Meanwhile the Tommies struggle to score averaging just 1.50 goals per game with their leading scorer Maddie Clough recording just 12 points on the season.
Where St. Thomas can keep themselves in games it is due to their goalie. Saskia Maurer enters the weekend with a 2.98 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. But the Gophers still should have ample opportunity to try and earn some individual stats this weekend.
The Gophers will have the opportunity to see how the WCHA race will play out after their series is over. Wisconsin and Ohio State will play a Saturday/Sunday series this weekend. Minnesota will know after their game on Saturday whet they need from the Badgers on Sunday to give them at least a share of the title. The Gophers getting help on the last weekend of the season is not without precedent—in fact it involves the same two teams, just in an opposite way. In 2018-19 when the Gophers won the WCHA regular season title, Minnesota headed into the final weekend of the regular season two points behind Wisconsin. The Gophers would sweep Bemidji State while the Badgers, facing Ohio State in Madison would collect just two points with a pair of ties and losing both shootouts to the Buckeyes giving the Gophers the regular season title. Of course the Badgers would have their revenge defeating the Gophers both in the WCHA Tournament and NCAA Tournament championships games.
No matter what happens this weekend the Gophers will in theory not leave the State of Minnesota the remainder of the 2022-23 season. Minnesota will host either Bemidji State or St. Thomas next weekend in a best-of-three WCHA First Round series, then they should advance to the WCHA Final Faceoff held at Ridder Arena the following weekend. Assuming the lack of a massive collapse of historic proportions, the Gophers will host an NCAA Quarterfinal at Ridder the following weekend, and with a win there would advance to the NCAA Frozen Four held this year at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Minnesota currently sits at #3 in the Pairwise rankings behind Ohio State and Yale, and ahead of Colgate and Wisconsin. With Colgate playing some of the bottom teams in the ECAC, the Gophers should be able to easily hang onto that #3 spot at least until the WCHA Final Faceoff, and even then they may need to worry more about the hard charging Badgers than Colgate overtaking them.
But for this one weekend at least, the Gophers will be rooting for an unlikely foe in Wisconsin. Ohio State and the Badgers will face off at 3 PM Saturday and 2 PM Sunday with both games streaming on BTN+.
Minnesota’s regular season finale at St. Thomas will feature a pair of 6 Pm faceoffs as the St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights. Both games will stream live on BTN+ with Saturday’s game also airing live on Fox9+. Tickets are available for both games for just $5, so head down to a road game and cheer on the Gophers!