The drive for the Final Five begins in earnest this week with six of the WCHA’s seven teams in action.
With the conference schedule having reached its midpoint — all seven teams have played 12 of their 24 league games — No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth has just one blemish (a 3-3 tie at Wisconsin, Oct. 26) on its WCHA record and leads No. 3 Minnesota by four points. The Bulldogs and Gophers appear to be headed for a 1-2 finish in league play and can all but book their reservations for Grand Forks, March 6-9.
The last three spots in the Final Five are up for grabs with seven points separating third-place, and eighth-ranked, Wisconsin from seventh-place Minnesota State.
The Badgers, who struggled through the first-half of the conference schedule with a 4-4-4 record, made a statement Tuesday night with a 2-1 win at No. 5 St. Lawrence. However, they will need to find a way of carrying their nonconference success (7-0-0) into WCHA contests.
Fourth-place Ohio State, the league’s only idle team this week, returned to action last week with a pair of one-goal losses. However, those losses were at No. 4 Dartmouth, 6-5, and St. Lawrence, 3-2. The Buckeyes, like Wisconsin, will be looking for more consistent play during the second half of the season.
The most compelling series this weekend will see fifth-place Bemidji State hosting a resurgent Minnesota State squad. The Beavers took at least one point from five of their six league opponents during the first half of the season but gave up at least one point to all six. BSU needs two points to move past Ohio State and into fourth place.
The Mavericks, who returned from a 25-day layoff with 6-0 and 5-1 wins over Quinnipiac last weekend, have shown they may be ready to make a move. Although dropping their last two games before the break at home, the 5-2 and 3-1 losses to Minnesota made for the closest series they’ve had with the Gophers.
Should Minnesota State garner points at Bemidji this weekend, it could move out of the conference cellar; the Mavericks trail St. Cloud State by one point, with the Huskies facing a home-and-home series with Minnesota. St. Cloud’s 4-3 win Tuesday over Quinnipiac helped the Huskies get back on track after a 23-day layoff but wasn’t up to the expectations of head coach Jason Lesteberg, who warned his team afterwards it would need to play much better to compete with the Gophers.
UMD and Minnesota, whose much-anticipated rematch is scheduled for Feb. 14-15 at Lakeview Arena in Duluth, both have 14 games left on their schedules. The Bulldogs’ final nonconference series is this weekend and is an important one as they host Dartmouth.
The Bulldogs will get a boost with the return of three players to their lineup. Maria Rooth, who missed four games after suffering a separated shoulder against Minnesota, Dec. 1, is back as are Satu Kiipeli, who missed seven games due to a broken finger, and Larissa Luther, who was academically ineligible the first half of the season.
The Gophers’ last nonconference series comes next weekend when they will also see Dartmouth. Minnesota will play the Big Green in Hanover, N.H., next Friday before taking on No. 7 New Hampshire in a Saturday matinee in Durham.
WCHA “House”Hold Hints
Bemidji State has been shut out in its last three outings … The Beavers have allowed 23 goals during that span … Minnesota State’s 11 goals against Quinnipiac were the most by a Maverick squad versus a Division I opponent since opening by defeating Wayne State 8-0 and 8-2, Oct. 15-16, 1999 … Minnesota’s game at St. Cloud Friday will be its first in 33 days … St. Cloud State sophomore Tina Ciraulo, the team’s top-scoring defenseman heading into Tuesday’s game, sat out the contest for violating team rules … She will be in the lineup this weekend when the Huskies take on the Gophers … Ciraulo has three assists in her last three games … With 21 points in her last four games, UMD junior Jenny Potter now has 214 career points … She’s tallied 143 points in 50 games as a Bulldog, following a 71-point freshman campaign at Minnesota … Ohio State dropped one-goal games over the weekend to Dartmouth and St. Lawrence despite outshooting both … The Buckeyes have outshot their opponents in 12 of 15 games this season … Ohio State was 3-for-11 on the power play over the weekend, after having converted on just 9.6 percent (8-for-83) of its chances in its previous 16 games … Wisconsin senior goalie Jackie MacMillan has recorded shutouts in three of her last six games.
WCHA Awards (Dec. 16)
Offensive Player of the Week–Carrie Holldorf, So., F, St. Cloud State
Defensive Player of the Week–Emma Laaksonen, Jr., D, Ohio State
Rookie of the Week–Krista McArthur, Fr., D, Minnesota-Duluth
Minnesota State at Bemidji State (Friday-Saturday)
Bemidji State leads the all-time series 8-6-2, including a 3-2-2 record at home … The teams split a two game series earlier this season, Oct. 25-26 … The Beavers won 6-2 before Minnesota State claimed a 2-1 win for its first victory of the season … MSU senior goalie Katie Beauduy recorded her first career shutout Saturday in the Mavericks’ 6-0 win over Quinnipiac … Minnesota State has not allowed a power-play goal in its last three games, killing 14 penalties during the span … The series sweep was MSU’s first since defeating Wayne State, 3-1 and 1-0, Oct. 26-27, 2001 … BSU will end a 27-day layoff with Friday’s game … The Beavers have not scored a goal in their last 202:13 while giving up 25 goals during that span.
No. 3 Minnesota at St. Cloud State (Friday)
St. Cloud State at No. 3 Minnesota (Saturday)
The Gophers are 15-1-0 against the Huskies … Minnesota has won all nine of the teams meetings in Minneapolis … The Huskies have score more than one goal just four times in 16 meetings … The Gophers, who are fifth nationally in penalty killing (89.5%), have allowed just 10 power-play goals in 18 games while scoring a national-best eight shorthanded goals … Minnesota has just five home games remaining on its schedule … Melanie Pudsey’s two-goal game Tuesday was her second of the season … She also scored twice in a 6-4 loss at Ohio State, Dec. 1 … The Huskies’ three power-play goals Tuesday were the most they’ve scored since getting three in a 6-3 win over Bemidji State, Feb. 15, 2002 … SCSU’s current three-game winning streak is its best since winning four in a row, Jan. 8-19, 2001.
No. 4 Dartmouth at No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth (Friday-Saturday)
Dartmouth and UMD have met once previously, with the Big Green claiming a 5-4 win in the third-place game of the American Women’s College Hockey Alliance National Championship, March 25, 2000, at Matthews Arena in Boston … The Bulldogs have scored 38 goals in their last four games and 48 goals in their last six games … Carly Haggard scored five goals in Dartmouth’s wins over Ohio State and Findlay this past weekend … Goalie Amy Ferguson recorded her second shutout in three games, and 10th of her career, in the Big Green’s 8-0 win over Findlay.