Neither Minnesota nor Minnesota-Duluth has a loss in conference in play, and the two are ranked first and third, respectively, in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Women’s Poll.
The battle for early-season supremacy in the WCHA takes place this weekend as the league’s top teams face each other at Ridder Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.
The Gophers, 13-0-1 overall and atop the league standings with a 7-0-1 record and 15 points, are the defending WCHA champions and have won the last two regular-season titles.
The Bulldogs, 9-1-2 overall and second in the league at 5-0-1 with 11 points, have won two WCHA titles and are the reigning, two-time NCAA champions.
The rivalry between the two teams has escalated into one of the most anticipated matchups in women’s hockey each season with the winners laying claim to the North Star Trophy, currently in Minnesota’s possession following a 1-0, 3-1 season sweep of UMD in Minneapolis last Feb. 18-19.
With one exception — Wisconsin’s Jackie Friesen leading the league with four power-play goals — either a Gopher or Bulldog tops all of the league’s statistical categories and one of the two teams lead every team category.
The top two teams in the league during the WCHA’s first three seasons, they have separated themselves again this year.
For UMD, which trails Minnesota by four points but has two games in hand, this weekend’s series is a chance for redemption after a loss to Harvard and tie with Brown in its last action, Nov. 16-17. The two games dropped the Bulldogs from first to third nationally.
The Gophers meanwhile, with home wins over the same two teams, climbed to number one nationally and solidified that standing with a pair of road wins over St. Lawrence this past weekend, earning a unanimous number-one ranking. Minnesota can virtually guarantee its spot at the top of the league standings through the holiday break by downing UMD this weekend.
Coming off a weekend which they didn’t play, Bulldog head coach Shannon Miller feels her team is prepared for the upcoming series.
— Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson, on this weekend’s UM-UMD series.
“They came back very rested,” she said of her team. “They came back hungry and ready to play the Gophers.”
Minnesota, which will have played eight games against ranked opponents in 31 days by the end of the weekend, is completing the toughest part of its schedule. However, head coach Laura Halldorson knows their is added significance to this weekend.
“I think it will be a good gauge of where we are this season,” she said. “It will be important down the road in terms of league and national tournament ramifications. But’s it’s still early in the season and we know we’ll see them later.”
Halldorson is also happy with where her team is after the stretch that the Gophers have been through.
“We started the month saying that this was going to be a difficult month and a real challenge for us,” she said. “We knew that at the end of the month would know a lot more about ourselves. I’ve been very happy with the results so far. I think we’re going into the final weekend of this month in pretty good shape and, hopefully, we can keep it going for one more weekend.”
Both teams have had to play important games during the month of November, and both have had to do without key players. UMD was without five of its top players in a weekend sweep of Ohio State three weeks ago while the Gophers were missing four players when they suffered the only blemish on their record, at 2-2 tie with Bemidji State, the same weekend.
Several Bulldog players were in and out of the lineup and now, with her team finally having significant practice time with everyone present, Miller believes her team is set to have a positive finish to the 2002 portion of the schedule.
“Now we’re together and it’s important that we move forward,” she said. “It’s important that we find each other and develop some chemistry. Going into the weekend it’s important that we’re together and now we need to move forward and progress.
“I’ve told the team that it’s a long race and, no matter what happens, everyone has time to recover. We just want to get better and better each week. Where we’re ranked doesn’t matter, but we want to feel good about where we’re at when we go into the (Christmas) break.”
With one final “big” weekend facing them, both the Bulldogs and Gophers realize their work is far from over. But this weekend’s battle for the North Star Trophy promises to be a factor in both teams’ success this season as well as an intense and exciting weekend of hockey.
UM-UMD To Be Aired By Fox Sports North
Editor’s note: it was previously indicated that Sunday’s UM-UMD contest would be televised on a tape-delayed basis, when in fact Saturday’s game was telecast. USCHO.com apologizes for the error.
Saturday’s game between Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth can be seen on Fox Sports North on Saturday on a tape-delayed basis.
Both Minnesota’s men’s and women’s team’s will be playing Sunday at the same time in the adjoining Mariucci and Ridder Arenas. The men’s game, with Michigan, will be carried live by FSN with the women’s game slated for a 6 p.m. CST air time, a change from its originally scheduled time of 7 p.m.
Seven More Sign With WCHA Schools
Two-time defending NCAA champion Minnesota-Duluth added four players during the early signing period while St. Cloud State inked two players and Ohio State one, bringing the total of players signing with WCHA schools to 14.
The Bulldogs’ four recruits represent four different countries and include three Europeans and one American.
Forward Jessica Koizumi (Simi Valley, Calif.) returns to her native Minnesota. Currently a member of the California Selects U-19 team, she was raised and played hockey in Silver Bay, Minn.
UMD’s European contingent of recruits is led by forward Evelin Samuelsson (Marsta, Sweden), who scored both of Team Sweden’s goal in their 2-1 bronze-medal win over Finland at the 2002 Olympics. She is joined by defenseman Suvi Vacker (Jyvaskyla, Finland), a member of Finland’s U-22 National Team who plays with the Jyvaskyla Cats club team along with former Bulldog goalie Tuula Puputti, and goalie Riitta Schaublin (Basel, Switzerland), who has played for Team Switzerland along with current UMD goalie Patricia Sautter.
With nine players leaving after this season, head coach Shannon Miller knows the recruiting process is a long ways from over.
“This is a good start,” she said. “But we still need more depth. We must work very hard at recruiting throughout the season to ensure we have a strong team next year.”
The Huskies have landed their first two recruits under new head coach Jason Lesteberg, adding forward Marie-Michel Lemieux (Boisbriand, Quebec) and goalie Lauri St. Jacques (Sturgeon Falls, Ontario).
Lemieux, at five feet, 11 inches tall, adds size to the SCSU front line. The MVP of the Boisbriand Junior A squad last season, she currently players for the St. Jerome Cheminots.
St. Jacques is no stranger to the WCHA, having played in exhibition games against the Huskies, Minnesota and Minnesota State earlier this season for the North York Junior Aeros. While playing three games in three days, she stopped 45 of 56 shots in 90 minutes, 19 seconds during the Aeros’ three-game trip.
The Buckeyes first member of their 2003-04 freshman class is Tessa Bonhomme (Sudbury, Ontario), a 5-7 defenseman with the Sudbury Wolves midget AA team.
A multi-sport athlete at Lasalle Secondary School, Bonhomme was the leading scorer for her school team last season and is currently leading the Wolves in scoring.
Bemidji State Changes Game Time With Wisconsin
Bemidji State announced that a new time has been set for its game with Wisconsin, Saturday, Dec. 7.
Originally slated for a 3:05 p.m. faceoff, the start time has been pushed ahead one hour to 2:05 p.m. The teams’ game scheduled for Friday, Dec. 6, will remain a 5:05 p.m. start.
WCHA “House”Hold Hints
Saturday, Wisconsin senior goalie Jackie MacMillan became the first goalie in WCHA history to play 100 career games … She celebrated the accomplishment with a 25-save shutout in a 4-0 win over Ohio State … Minnesota freshman Natalie Darwitz scored her second natural hat trick of the season in Saturday’s 7-2 win at No. 5 St. Lawrence … She scored her three goals in just over eight minutes and had a hand in each of the Gophers’ goals during a five-goal first period … Darwitz was named the league’s rookie of the week for the third time this season … She and linemate Krissy Wendell have combined to earn that honor six times in the first seven weeks of the season … Each has also been cited as the league’s player of the week once this season …
St. Cloud State begins a six-game road swing this weekend to conclude the 2002 portion of its schedule … The Huskies will played five of eight games at home in both January and February … Minnesota junior forward La Toya Clarke reinjured her sprained ankle this past weekend at St. Lawrence but is expected to be in the lineup to face the Bulldogs … Wisconsin will be without the services of sophomore defenseman Carla McLeod and freshman forward Nikki Burish until after Christmas … Both are out with broken legs … Badger sophomore forward Amy Vermeulen, who missed the team’s first 12 games while playing soccer for Wisconsin, scored the game-tying goal in Friday’s 3-3 tie with Ohio State in her first game of the season.
Offensive Player of the Week–Krissy Wendell, Fr., F, Minnesota
Defensive Player of the Week–Jackie MacMillan, Sr., G, Wisconsin
Rookie of the Week–Natalie Darwitz, Fr., F, Minnesota
No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth at No. 1 Minnesota (Saturday-Sunday)
Minnesota owns a 6-5-3 edge in the all-time series … The Gophers have won the last four meetings on their home ice … Seventeen of the league’s top 25 scorers play for either Minnesota or UMD … Nine players between the two teams competed in the Four Nations Cup earlier this month … The Gophers have not allowed more than three goals in a game this season and the Bulldogs have not allowed more than three goals since their season-opening 6-4 win at No. 6 Providence … UMD senior forward Maria Rooth is six points shy of becoming the first player in school history to score 200 career points … She has 106 career goals in 106 games … Despite allowing a league-high 7.5 power plays per game in WCHA games, the Bulldogs are 45-for-45 killing penalties … They’ve allowed just two power-play goals in 81 chances overall.
Minnesota State at No. 9 Wisconsin (Saturday-Sunday)
Wisconsin is 12-0-0 against Minnesota State … The Badgers have shutout the Mavericks in the last three meetings and have held them scoreless for over 11 periods, a span of 226:02 … Wisconsin senior Jackie MacMillan and MSU junior Shari Vogt have combined for 4,130 career saves … Vogt, who is facing nearly 41 shots per game, ranks 11th nationally with a .923 save percentage … MSU’s four points in league games is more than they have accumulated in the past two seasons combined.
St. Cloud State at Ohio State (Saturday-Sunday)
Ohio State is 8-5-1 all-time against St. Cloud State and owns a three-game winning streak in the series … However, the Huskies own a 4-1-1 mark in six games at OSU Arena … Despite outshooting its opponents in its last four games, the Buckeyes are just 1-3-0 during that span … OSU has held opponents to 16 or fewer shots in each of its last three games … Saturday’s 4-0 loss at Wisconsin was the Buckeyes’ fifth shutout loss of the season … Each of St. Cloud State’s three wins this season has come in the second game of a series … SCSU freshmen twin sisters Ashley and Kelly Stewart have accounted for the Huskies’ three game-winning goals … The game-winning goals are the only goals the duo has scored this season.