Their last meeting marked a turning point for both teams. This weekend’s meeting will be pivotal in determining whether either begins its NCAA Tournament on home ice. Don’t look now, but similar to the North Carolina Tar Heels in men’s college basketball, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have reinvented themselves in time to win nine of their last 10 games and set up a formidable defense of their WCHA and NCAA Championships. Meanwhile, Minnesota-Duluth has survived a tumultuous second half and hopes its recently-reunited full roster can make amends for the disappointing postseason finish of a year ago.
Two things to watch for — What kind of jump does Minnesota-Duluth have early? Can Minnesota sustain its increasingly balanced attack?
UMD’s stretch run did not seem to presage a championship. Suspensions, new captains, the departure of key personnel to the Olympics, and just two wins in an eight-game span. However, the Bulldogs are still standing and their first weekend as a full team (10 goals in a comfortable sweep of Bemidji State) at least restored some confidence prior to the gauntlet of the conference and national tournaments. On the road against its arch-rival this Saturday, the first period should be telling. If UMD comes out with a wealth of speed and passion, then maybe this really is a team reborn and refocused. If not, then maybe the ghosts of late swoons in each of the last two years have not yet been fully exorcised.
Minnesota has received competent goaltending and defense all season long, but the Gopher offense has begun to find its rhythm in recent weeks thanks to improved consistency from a top line — led by the WCHA scoring champion (Erica McKenzie), the WCHA Rookie of the Year (Gigi Marvin), and a breakout sophomore (Jenelle Philipcyzk) — and a productive second line including last year’s WCHA Rookie of the Year (Bobbi Ross), the team captain (Andrea Nichols), and another breakout sophomore (Whitney Graft). Add in third and fourth units that contributed four goals to the cause in the WCHA Quarterfinals, as well as a defense known for its offensive flair, and Minnesota suddenly has the ability to separate from opponents. If these trends continue, usurping the league crown from the Gophers may prove far more difficult than many would have believed at season’s beginning.
No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth (22-7-3 overall, 18-7-3 WCHA)
Top Scorers: Jessica Koizumi, Jr., F (17-25-42), Noemie Marin, Jr., F (21-17-38), Michaela Lanzl, Fr., F (18-11-29)
Top Goaltender: Riitta Schaublin, Jr. (20-7-3, 1.57, .941)
Scoring Offense: 3.72 (4th)
Scoring Defense: 1.59 (6th)
Penalty Minutes: 13.8 (12th)
Power Play: 33 of 198, 16.7% (11th)
Penalty Kill: 169 of 188, 89.9% (5th)
No. 4 Minnesota (26-9-1 overall, 19-8-1 WCHA)
Top Scorers: Erica McKenzie, So., F (27-24-51), Gigi Marvin, Fr., F (16-28-44), Bobbi Ross, So., F (17-20-37)
Top Goaltenders: Kim Hanlon, Fr. (13-2-0, 1.02, .948), Brittony Chartier, Fr. (13-7-1, 1.98, .916)
Scoring Offense: 3.06 (11th)
Scoring Defense: 1.58 (5th)
Penalty Minutes: 11.9 (20th)
Power Play: 33 of 181, 18.2% (8th)
Penalty Kill: 165 of 190, 86.8% (13th)
All-time: 15-13-4 Minnesota
Last 5 meetings:
1/21/06: UM 2, UMD 0
1/20/06: UMD 4, UM 2
10/29/05: UMD 6, UM 0
10/28/05: UM 4, UMD 1
2/27/05: UM 1, UMD 0