With just four weeks remaining in the regular season, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association race is beginning to shake itself out.
Although the league’s top five teams, those earning spots in the WCHA Final Five, March 6-8 in Grand Forks, N.D., have solidified their postseason hopes, there is still likely to be some shuffling in the final standings.
Atop the league standings are No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 3 Minnesota. The two teams will meet next weekend in Duluth but can ill afford to drop points this weekend by looking ahead to the matchup that will likely determine the league’s regular-season title.
Both squads are at home this weekend with the Bulldogs facing St. Cloud State and Gophers taking on Ohio State. Although Minnesota has two games in hand on UMD, it trails the league leader by six points.
The Gophers, who host the Buckeyes this weekend, are taking on a team that is coming off a 5-2, 11-2 sweep at the hands of the Bulldogs and will be looking to get back on track before heading into the postseason.
Ohio State is just 2-6-0 in 2003 and is coming off a weekend in which its leading scorer, sophomore Jeni Creary, tallied a league-record 27 penalty minutes in Friday’s loss at UMD, and freshman goalie Natalie Lamme was given a game misconduct in the same contest.
With 57 penalty minutes in the game, the Buckeyes also set a team record and the resulting disarray in their lineup led to Saturday’s collapse in the nine-goal loss, easily the team’s worst of the season.
What it all leads up to is a Minnesota team gearing up for its biggest weekend of the season versus an Ohio State team trying to get its game back together for the stretch drive.
UMD, meanwhile, keeps plugging along. At 13-1-0 in its last 14 games, the Bulldogs are poised to make a run at their third consecutive national championship, an event which will take place on their home ice, the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, March 21 and 23.
For UMD, however, a WCHA regular-season title would be its first since 1999-2000, when the Bulldogs claimed the inaugural crown. Last season, UMD lost a late game to St. Cloud State, the last time it suffered a shutout, in finishing behind Minnesota; this year the Bulldogs cannot afford to lose points this weekend heading into their series with the Gophers.
Both Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth have clinched spots in the Final Five.
The most important matchup this weekend will feature third-place and No. 7 Wisconsin hosting fourth-place Bemidji State.
With a three-point lead and two games in hand over the Beavers, the Badgers are looking to solidify their hold on third place. The difference between third and fourth place is a Thursday play-in game for the semifinals.
Badgers’ MacMillan Ends Consecutive Minutes Streak
Wisconsin senior goalie Jackie MacMillan had played 1,449:45 consecutive minutes, except for 1:05 of time being pulled for an extra attacker, before finally being relieved by freshman Meghan Horras for the final seven minutes of Friday’s 6-1 win at Minnesota State.
MacMillan, who has started 43 consecutive games for the Badgers, has been the team’s No. 1 netminder during her entire career. Wisconsin will need to replace her next season.
Horras, who played in a pair of January exhibition games for the Badgers, save her first real action of the season, making three saves in 7:05. She stopped Maverick sophomore Melanie Salatino on a breakaway with 44.3 seconds to play in the game to preserve her perfect save percentage.
International Play Disrupts League Again
Three WCHA teams will head into league play without the services of key players, the second week in a row and third time this season that has happened.
A number of players were absent during the Four Nations Cup, Nov. 6-10. Last weekend, UMD was without senior forwards Erika Holst and Maria Rooth, and junior defenseman Satu Kiipeli while OSU was missing junior defenseman Emma Laaksonen as the two teams met in Duluth.
This weekend, it’s an international U-22 tournament in Hanover, Germany. Eight players in total, seven playing for Canada, will miss games.
The Bulldogs lose four players, including a pair of blueliners in senior Navada Russell and freshman Krista McArthur, along with senior forward Joanne Eustace, all to the Canadian team, and senior goalie Patricia Sautter to Team Switzerland.
Wisconsin will be without the trio, including team scoring leader junior forward Meghan Hunter. Sophomore forward Jackie Friesen and freshman defenseman Carla MacLeod, who recently returned to the lineup after missing 18 games due to a broken ankle, will also be with Team Canada.
Minnesota will be without the services of junior forward La Toya Clarke, the team’s third-leading active career scorer.
WCHA “House”hold Hints
Four WCHA players were named to the list of 10 finalist for this year’s Patty Kazmaier Award … UMD senior Maria Rooth, for the fourth consecutive year, and junior teammate Jenny Potter, who was a finalist in 2000, lead the list … They are joined by Minnesota freshman Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell … The top three candidates for the award will be announced March 10 … Bemidji State will play five of its last eight games on the road after concluding a seven-game homestand over the weekend … The Beavers have not played a road game since a 10-0 loss at UMD … BSU is 4-6-1 on the road this season … With Saturday’s weekend sweep of Bemidji State, Minnesota earned its 20th win of the season … In six seasons, the Gophers have won at least 20 games each year …
UMD’s 5-2 win over Ohio State featured a total of 77 penalty minutes, including a WCHA record 57 by the Buckeyes … Bulldog senior Hanne Sikio became the team’s third player to each 200 career points when she hit the mark Saturday … She joins Rooth and Potter on the 200-point list … UMD senior Jenny Hempel and junior Tricia Guest combined to set a school record when they scored nine seconds apart in Saturday’s 11-2 win … Minnesota State posted a 4-3-2 record during the month of January, its first winning month since joining the WCHA in 1999-2000 … OSU concludes a five-game road trip this weekend with a two-game series at Minnesota … The Buckeyes will wrap up the regular season with a six-game homestand … St. Cloud State earned its first home sweep of the season over the weekend, defeating North Dakota 4-3 and 6-0 … Freshman goalie Brie Anderson earned her first career shutout in capping the series sweep … Wisconsin earned its first conference sweep of the season by downing Minnesota State 6-1 and 4-1.
Offensive Player of the Week–Jenny Potter, Jr., F, Minnesota-Duluth
Defensive Player of the Week–Brie Anderson, Fr., G, St. Cloud State
Rookie of the Week–Natalie Darwitz, Fr., F, Minnesota
No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth at St. Cloud State (Friday-Saturday)
UMD holds a 13-2-1 advantage in the all-time series … The Bulldogs are 5-1-0 at the National Hockey Center … St. Cloud State has taken a win from UMD in February in each of the last two seasons … The Bulldogs have had 37 power-play chances in their last four games, converting 10 of them … UMD has gotten power-play goals from 12 different players this season … Bulldog sophomore defenseman Larissa Luther recorded her first point of the season Friday after missing the team’s first 18 games … With 99 career victories, UMD head coach Shannon Miller is looking to reach the century mark this weekend … The Huskies were 5-for-12 on the power play in their weekend sweep of North Dakota … The sweep gives SCSU nine wins on the season, surpassing last year’s total of seven, with eight games remaining … The Huskies are the only league team without a tie this season and one of just five teams in the country.
Ohio State at No. 3 Minnesota (Friday-Saturday)
Minnesota leads Ohio State 13-3-0 in the all-time series … The Gophers are 5-1-0 at home versus the Buckeyes … Minnesota had a streak of 176:07 scoreless minutes snapped when they allowed a pair of late, third-period goals in Sunday’s 7-2 at Bemidji State … The Gophers have scored a power-play goal in five consecutive games … They are 10-for-21 during that time … Minnesota freshman forward Krissy Wendell was held without a point in Saturday’s 7-0 win, snapping a 19-game point-scoring streak … OSU is just 1-for-26 on the power in its last six games … The Buckeyes have failed to score on 20 power-play chances over the last four games.
Findlay at Minnesota State (Friday-Saturday)
Findlay is 4-2-1 in seven meetings with Minnesota State … The series is tied at 1-1-1 in Mankato … The teams are meeting for the first time at All Seasons Arena … After going unbeaten in four consecutive road games, the Mavericks have lost four straight home games … MSU is playing its first home games against a CHA opponent … The Mavericks, 2-2-0 against CHA teams, were swept at Mercyhurst and won two games at Wayne State … Findlay enters the weekend on a three-game losing streak … The Oilers play their next four games on the road against WCHA opponents, with Bemidji State up next on their schedule … Findlay is 0-3-0 against WCHA teams, with all three losses, two to Minnesota and one to Ohio State, coming at home.
Bemidji State at No. 7 Wisconsin (Saturday-Sunday)
Wisconsin is 14-1-1 versus Bemidji State … The Badgers are 5-1-0 in home games against the Beavers but are meeting them for the first time in at the Kohl Center in Madison … Wisconsin has hosted BSU twice, Nov. 13-14, 1999, and Dec. 8-9, 2001, in Eau Claire, Wis., and once, March 2-3, 2001, at the Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton, Wis. … The Badgers overcame one-goal deficits to win both games at Minnesota State … The wins were the team’s first in WCHA play this season after giving up the game’s first goal … Freshman Grace Hutchins recorded her first career goal in Friday’s 6-1 win at MSU … Ten of BSU’s last 11 games have been at home … They have posted a 2-6-3 record during that time … The Beavers have gone to overtime six times this season, with none of those games being decided in the extra five minutes … BSU led the nation with nine ties last season and share the national lead with No. 9 Providence this season.