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Minnesota Women’s Hockey: #3 Gophers Host #1 Ohio State in Huge WCHA Series

This weekends games will have a direct effect on the WCHA title race

Eric Miller

The Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team will put their 12-game winning streak to the test when the #1 team in the nation, the Ohio State Buckeyes come into Ridder Arena this weekend in a huge WCHA series. This weekends results will go a long way into determining who may win the WCHA Regular Season Championship. Minnesota currently holds a two point lead on the Buckeyes with six games remaining. After this weekend both teams still have a series against third place Wisconsin and a conference bottom dweller. So this weekend is huge it determining who will have the leg up headed into the final two weekends of the regular season.

Minnesota comes into the series off of a huge road sweep of #6 Minnesota-Duluth. The first of six straight conference games against ranked opponents always play their in-state rival tough and last weekend was no different. The Gophers fought to a 3-1 win on Friday on a Catie Skaja top in goal in the second period and a pair of Abbey Murphy goals assisted by Grace Zumwinkle in the third to break the 1-1 tie. Saturday was much of the same as Minnesota jumped out to an early lead again before hanging on despite a furious UMD comeback. Peyton Hemp scored a pair of goals and Josefin Bouveng added one to put the Gophers up 3-1 after two periods. The Bulldogs cut the lead to 3-2 before Abigal Boreen scored her 18th goals of the season to put them up 4-2. UMD cut it to 4-3 with 2:30 to play but Skyler Vetter and the Gophers defense stood tall and clinched the sweep.

Ohio State enters the weekend off of a sweep of Minnesota State in Columbus. The Buckeyes are on a 10-game winning streak and have not dropped a game since an OT loss in Duluth on December 3rd. It’s one of their only two losses this season—the other coming at the hands of the Gophers in Columbus back in October. Senior Jenn Gardner leads the Buckeye offense. She has 42 points on the season with 16 goals and 26 assists. The main Gopher killer on the Buckeyes is defender Sophie Jacques. She leads OSU in goals with 19 and scored three of those including two in the third period of the 4-4 tie in the series against Minnesota in Columbus. Add in the overtime winner in the 2022 WCHA Final Faceoff Championship game and if the game is tight, the Gophers do not want to see the puck on Jacques stick. OSU has split time in net this season between Amanda Thiele and Raygan Kirk. Thiele owns a 12-1-1 record for the Buckeyes, while Kirk has a .919 save percentage in 10 games played. Thiele ranks fourth nationally, and first in the WCHA, in win percentage (.893) and Kirk follows in fifth in the country (.850).

Minnesota counters in net with Vetter. She was named a Top-10 Finalist for NCAA Goalie of the year this week and she enters the weekend with a 19-3-2 record with a 1.71 GAA and a .927 Sv%. Minnesota’s true power lives in their offense though. They lead the nation with 4.96 goals per game, nearly an entire half goal more than the Buckeyes in second place at 4.5. Zumwinkle leads the nation with 21 goals while Taylor Heise is just one back at 20. They both have 47 points on the season to rank #2 in the nation.

Special teams may be the determining factor on the weekend. OSU has the #1 power play in the nation scoring over one-third of the time at a 33.8% clip. Minnesota is right behind in second with a 30% score rate. The Buckeyes are slightly better on the penalty kill as well succeeding just over 84% of the time to Minnesota’s 81%. The Gophers do have eight shorthanded goals this season, good for second in the nation.

The Buckeyes have had significant success at Ridder Arena since former Gopher great and assistant Nadine Muzerall has taken over the Ohio State Program. Her teams are 15-12-2 since she took over in 2016, but are shockingly 8-3-2 in Ridder Arena. If Minnesota wants to keep their hold on the WCHA lead, no worse that a split this weekend can be the goal. If Minnesota can somehow get a huge sweep, not only to they sit high in the drivers seat for the WCHA crown, but they truly stamp themselves as a top contender to bring home the ultimate goal—a NCAA title in Duluth in March.

Friday night’s game will begin at 6PM and Saturday’s will face off at 2PM. Both game swill stream live on BTN+. Tickets are available for both games and Gopher loyalty members get in FREE! So go head down to Ridder Arena this weekend and cheer on the Gophers and see two of the best teams in the nation square off.