New-Look Gophers Debut Successfully

Minnesota Completes Sweep of Syracuse

10/4/09 – Minnesota 4, Syracuse 1

When a team loses eight members from one season to the next, including four of its five top scorers, it is obvious that there will be some holes to fill. That half of those missing players are now centralized with the US National team just underscores the fact that those holes may be rather large.

With scores from around the country demonstrating that results this year may be less predictable than usual, Minnesota avoided the upset trend by getting contributions throughout the roster in beating the visiting Orange 4-1 on the heels of a 4-3 win on Friday.

“The kids played extremely hard from the drop of the puck,” Coach Brad Frost said. “I thought we were winning the races and winning the battles all night.”

The Gophers also won the overall special-teams battle, getting a pair of first-period, power play goals from sophomore defenseman Anne Schleper just 50 seconds apart, while thwarting 5 Syracuse PP chances.

“If we can get shots from the D at any point, whether it is on the power play or even strength, that’s going to be a huge point for us this year,” Schleper said.

The departure of some means opportunity for others, and on opening weekend, nobody took greater advantage of an expanded role than Stillwater native Chelsey Jones. The Northeastern transfer tallied only 2 goals and 8 assists in her first season back in her home state. Jones followed up her game-winning goal on Friday with two goals and an assist on Sunday.

Coach and player joked about the fact that only two games into her senior season she has already exceeded her goal production from her entire junior season.

“We’ve known that she has that ability, and she knows that she is one that’s going to be called upon to step up and do some great things,” Frost said. “So far, so good.”

After struggling offensively much of last year, Jones appreciates getting off to a quick start in her final campaign.

“It is really nice,” she said. “I’d like to say it’s easy, but it’s easy because my linemates really made it easy. Laura May had a great play on both of the two goals that I had.”

May’s two assists give her the team lead, while Jones’ three goals and four points are also team best.

In addition to having returning players step up, Minnesota got positive contributions from the freshmen class. Mira Jalosuo and Becky Kortum earned their first assists, while Noora Räty stopped 17 shots to win her first start in maroon and gold.

“Noora is just so calm,” Frost said. “She was in position; she’s very confident back there, and very calm, cool, and collected.”

The coach liked what he saw in the season’s first weekend as the team anticipates the trip to Ohio for next weekend’s first conference series versus the Buckeyes.

“Everybody has elevated their game from last year in my opinion, and we’re going to need that to continue.”
Gophers Take Season’s First Meeting From Bulldogs

Goaltender Räty Saves 22 Shots

10/16/09 - Minnesota 3, Minnesota-Duluth 1

Both Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota have undergone massive changes since the teams last met in January. Graduation, injury, and an Olympic year have necessitated a major revamping of the roster of each.

One need not look beyond the goal crease to see the new identity – the Bulldogs (3-2-0, 2-1-0 WCHA) started German freshman Jennifer Harss. The Gophers (5-0-0, 3-0-0 WCHA) countered with a rookie of their own in
Noora Räty. If the two are destined to meet often during their tenures, score round one to Räty, who turned aside all but one of 23 shots and kept UMD scoreless until the game’s final ten minutes.

“I love playing under pressure; it’s always nice playing tough games,” Räty said.

By the time the Bulldogs got on the board, Anne Schleper, Terra Rasmussen, and Sarah Erickson had each found the twine on the other end.

“From our goalie, to our defensemen, to our forwards, I thought we just played a really sound, solid game,” said Coach Brad Frost.

Minnesota scored in each period, getting the important first goal at 12:53 when Kelli Blankenship’s pass out of the corner connected with Schleper skating in from her point.  Schleper’s quick shot beat Harss low to her stick side. The goal was the sophomore defender’s fourth of the season; Chelsey Jones earned the other assist.

“I think tonight there were some great, timely goals,” Frost said. “Obviously that first one is big – if we can get the lead, we always play better with the lead.”

Rasmussen beat Harss through the same opening late in the second stanza off a feed from Kelly Seeler, doubling a precarious one-goal lead.

“That’s kind of my go-to spot is the lower left – good thing that she didn’t see it,” Rasmussen said.

“Getting that goal definitely helped us as a team. Everyone gets riled up.”

After Erickson went upstairs to convert a short-range powerplay opportunity with assists from Seeler and Megan Bozek early in the third, all that remained for Minnesota was to hold off the visitor’s comeback attempt.

Despite the one hiccup, Räty and her defense succeeded in that regard.

“I think our battle level was really good today,” she said. “Our players did an awesome job in our own zone.”

Erickson is off to a fast start with a team-leading six goals.

“To get the goals when I need to get goals and to get in the corner when I need to get in the corner – whatever I can do to help the team, that’s what I’ll do,” Erickson said. “It’s nice to start out the way I am, but it is all a team effort.”

Rasmussen believes it will require a full 60-minute effort to finish off the sweep when the teams meet Saturday at 4:07 in Ridder Arena.

“I think tomorrow, we know our potential and we know that we had a little lull there for a while and got scored on,” she said. “I think tomorrow we’ll come back and be able to take it to them a little more.”
Gophers Shut Out Bulldogs 3-0

Sweep Has Team Leading WCHA Standings

10/17/09 - Minnesota 3, Minnesota-Duluth 0

Halfway through a scoreless hockey game, the Gophers were fortunate to still be even with the visiting Bulldogs. UMD used strong fore-check pressure to keep Minnesota (6-0-0, 4-0-0 WCHA) pinned in their own end for long stretches.

That they did not trail was due largely to the efforts of goalie Noora Räty who stymied the Bulldogs (3-3-0, 2-2-0 WCHA) in an often-spectacular fashion.

“When we were at maybe not our best, Noora was at her best and kept us in the game and played extremely well, obviously, earning her first shutout as a Gopher,” Coach Brad Frost said.

The Minnesota penalty kill, which had struggled through the first two weeks of the season in allowing six power-play goals, turned the tide in the Gophers’ favor this time. While paired together on the kill, Brittany Francis sent Emily West in alone and the junior beat goaltender Jennifer Harss upstairs at 12:10 of the second period.

“Fran picked the puck up, it just happened to squirt past the two of their forwards,” West said. “Fran made the perfect pass, and for some reason, their D were all on one side, so got a lucky break and finally finished.”

It was West’s fifth goal and second shorthander of the season.

Play became more physical from that point, with five penalties being assessed in the remainder of the period, and the increase in intensity seemed to inspire Minnesota’s play.

“I don’t think they have anybody who is purposely going to try and cause some commotion, and I don’t think we have anybody like that either,” Frost said. “If somebody does cause a little bit, both teams have some people who certainly won’t shy away from it. It was heated, as it always is, but it was a lot of fun.”

“That got me going a little bit, got the adrenaline rush,” Kelli Blankenship said.

Blankenship, whose senior season started slowly due to a concussion suffered in the first game, took a feed from Terra Rasmussen along the end boards, and wrapped the puck around Harss on the far side for her first goal two minutes into the third session.

“It felt so good,” Blankenship said. “Especially after the fact, and I look and all my teammates are so excited. That just made it so much better.”

When the Bulldogs went on the power play ten minutes later with hopes of getting back into the contest, Chelsey Jones broke their backs with another shorty. Rasmussen once again had the only assist. Both of the team’s shorthanded goals were keyed by long breakout passes to set up the lone rush.

“I think it is more of a common sense thing,” West said. “It opens up a lot of stuff, so if it is open, we’ll definitely do it. And if not, there’s always room to skate underneath and just dump it in and get the puck back on the fore check.”

The coach was happy to see Räty earn her first collegiate shutout after allowing a single goal late in each of her previous three starts.

“You can just see how ticked off she is,” Frost said. “Not because she is dying to get that shutout, but more because she just hates to get scored on. And it’s a pretty darn good attitude to have.”

Managing the goaltender situation promises to be complicated, factoring in Räty’s absences to play for the Finnish national team while trying to keep the other goalies involved.

“I think Alyssa [Grogan] is playing very well in practice, and we just need to get her to work a couple of kinks out in her game, and I know she is willing to do that,” Frost said. “And Jenny [Lura] continues to work hard in practice, too. They’re going to get their opportunities – Noora’s not going to be playing [every game] until she leaves.”
Minnesota Trounces St. Cloud State 7-0

Grogan Pushes Shutout String to Three Games

10/24/09 - Minnesota 7, St. Cloud State 0

This season, the Gophers have discovered a sure recipe for success – don’t ever allow your opponents to take a lead. For eight straight contests, Minnesota (8-0-0, 6-0-0 WCHA) has never faced a deficit.

Over the last three games, the Gophers have improved on that formula by not allowing any goals against. The Huskies (1-5-0, 0-4-0 WCHA) became the latest victim of a whitewashing, falling 7-0 in front of 1,176 fans in Ridder Arena.

Coach Brad Frost said not allowing a goal all weekend speaks highly of the team defense his charges played.

“We gave up some chances, but both goalies, Alyssa [Grogan] and Noora [Räty], were just tremendous for us,” he said.

Grogan denied 21 shots in earning her first shutout of the season after struggling a bit in her two previous wins.

And as much as a stingy defense relieves the pressure on the offense, early goal support simplifies the life for goaltenders. Minnesota struck for four first-period goals and chased St. Cloud starting goaltender Tayler VanDenakker before the first intermission.

“We didn’t know much about this starting goalie today,” Chelsey Jones said. “We just decided we were going to throw the kitchen sink at them and see how that went.”

Neither VanDenakker nor the Huskies had an apparent answer for the kitchen sink.

Brittany Francis left a defender guarding air at the blue line while skating 4-on-4 and picked the top left corner at 7:32. Two and a half minutes later, Jones ignored the opponent clinging to her back and lifted the first of her two goals past the besieged netminder.

“It is partially the weight room, but it’s also determination,” Jones said. “You just have to be determined to score.”

This season, it has been feast or famine for the Gopher power play, and on this day, it dined very well, converting four times in seven chances.

Terra Rasmussen notched the first of four straight extra-strength goals to make it 3-0, sending the water bottle flying in the process. Laura May’s shot at 18:12 handcuffed VanDenakker and sent her to the refuge of the bench.

“I thought our power play was clicking pretty well tonight,” Frost said. “We just wanted to simplify it a little bit and start getting a little more traffic in front – last night in particular we did not do a very good job of that.”

“That was a big issue for us yesterday, and we were definitely not happy with our results,” May said. “So I think one thing we focused on today was coming out and even on the rush putting pressure on.”

When SCSU’s Danielle Hirsch received a major for a check from behind, Minnesota took advantage with two more powerplay goals despite committing two minor penalties of their own during the 5-minute penalty. Kelly Seeler drove home her first of the season from the blue line in the opening seconds, and Jones finished off a rush in the final ones.

“That play started from Grogan playing that puck up to May, and May being able to get the puck over to me,” Jones said.

“Our goalies together have three assists, and it is really pivotal that they’re getting the pucks out. Everyone is contributing, and it’s really a team effort, it’s not just a couple of individuals.”

May closed out the scoring in the third period with her second goal of the game to go with two assists. Becky Kortum, who centers Jones and May on the second line, contributed a pair of helpers.

“We really needed this game for our chemistry,” May said. “We finally just came together and we were burying the puck. And we need that definitely coming into Wisconsin, because that’s going to be a big series, and we’re going to need a lot of goal scorers.”

While much of the attention coming into the season was on the players who had left, recent focus has shifted to those still at Minnesota.

“I didn’t take into account just how hungry these players are to prove that they are great hockey players, too,” Frost said. “And as we’ve talked many times, players who were buried on our fourth line last year continue to step up, and continue to get better and better every game.”
Minnesota Outlasts Pesky Beavers

Revamped Third Line Keys Victory

11/20/09 - Minnesota 4, Bemidji State 2

The Gophers brief history against Bemidji State sophomore goalie Zuzana Tomcikova suggests that once they score a goal off of her more will follow.

The difficulty is getting that first goal. Tomcikova turned aside numerous top-quality chances in a scoreless opening period. It took a non-threatening looking shot from Kelli Blankenship at 2:46 of the second period to finally beat her.

“It was a huge goal for us,” Coach Brad Frost said. “I think that if Blanks had gotten good wood on it, the goalie probably would have stopped it. It took kind of a fluky bounce for us, up and over, she didn’t see it, and it went in the net.”

The fluttering puck sailed into the goal and gave Minnesota (10-2-1, 8-2-1 WCHA) a lead they would not relinquish.

“A little knucklepuck,” Blankenship said. “I just shot it, I was like ‘oh my God, It went in!’”

Anne Schleper and Terra Rasmussen assisted on Blankenship’s fourth goal of the season.

“In particular our third line, played tremendous tonight with Kelli Blankenship, Jaimie Horton, and Terra Rasmussen,” Frost said. “They were flying all night. Got a couple of very nice goals for us.”

The combination played their first game together with the promotion of Horton from the fourth line.

“Jaimie’s been so steady for us over her four years,” Frost said. “She maybe doesn’t bring as much offensive ability as a Sam Downey, but she’s very responsible and we know that we can rely on her and depend on her.”

Collectively the unit was a plus-7.

The Gopher lead doubled when Sarah Erickson skated down a long pass by Laura May and slipped it under Tomcikova; the goal was Erickson’s NCAA-best twelfth of the season.

Rasmussen took a feed from Blankenship and gave Minnesota a seemingly safe 3-0 lead just over five minutes into the final period.

“We were just connecting, and she saw me in front and dished it over, and it happened to go in,” Rasmussen said. “It was a really good pass by Kell.”

“All I saw was her stick, I gave it to her, she put it in,” Blankenship said. “It was great.”

But BSU (4-9-2, 3-4-2 WCHA) wouldn’t go away. Erin Cody and Annie Bauerfeld scored six minutes apart to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 89 seconds to go.

“Bemidji is a hard-working team,” Rasmussen said. “They never stop, as you can see.”

With the Beaver goalie off for an extra attacker, Emily West gained control in her own zone, rushed the puck up the ice, and slid in a backhanded shot from long range to seal the 4-2 win.

“Happy again with the two points; nothing comes easy in this league,” Frost said.

The two teams wrap up the series on Saturday with a 4 p.m. matinee.
Gophers Defeat Bemidji St. 3-1

Rookie D Megan Bozek Produces 3-point Game

11/21/09 - Minnesota 3, Bemidji State 1

Minnesota trailed for the first time at home this season, but they remained perfect within the confines of Ridder Arena by coming back on the strength of two powerplay goals.

“We always like being at home, and I think we’re pretty tough to beat at home, and I think we proved that again this weekend,” Coach Brad Frost said. “It’s nice just to get in front of our home crowd and hear that Rouser playing, and it definitely gives our players a good lift.”

Emily Erickson broke in alone and beat goalie Noora Räty just 3 minutes and 3 seconds into the game to give Bemidji St. the early advantage.

 “Even if we’re losing and kind of lost that momentum, (we need) to keep that composure and realize that we need to be the better team on the ice no matter what,” captain Emily West said.

The Gophers (11-2-1, 9-2-1 WCHA) proved to be the better team in part because they won the special teams battle, scoring the game’s only two player-advantage goals.

West scored the eventual gamewinner at 5:23 of the second period when she converted the rebound of a blast by Anne Schleper.

“I think one of our goals was just to move it around quite a bit and look for that shot through a screen, and if not, try not to force anything,” West said.

Megan Bozek had earlier tied the score at 1-1 when she picked off a BSU (4-1-2, 3-5-2 WCHA) clearing attempt and got off a shot that trickled through their goalie.

“I got the puck on the point, and saw that their forward was kind of chapping me to the left, so I kind of just moved and shot and hoped for somebody to get a rebound, but luckily it went in,” she said.

“I’ve been waiting for a goal, and it’s finally come, so I’m pretty happy about it.”

Bozek welcomed that first goal for another reason, as she had been victimized earlier on a Beaver 2-on-1 that led to their goal.

“That was kind of tough to deal with that, so I knew that I had to help my team in a big,” she said.

Her help didn’t end there, as she also assisted on West’s goal and hit Terra Rasmussen for an insurance tally at 18:39 of the final period.

“We’ve been working on the play in practice, and she was in the right spot,” Bozek said. “So I passed it, and she got a goal, so that was a really good goal for us.”

Räty stopped all but one of the 21 shots she saw in improving her personal record to 8-1-1.

Minnesota’s lead in the WCHA grew as their closest pursuers, Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin, both fell.

“We saw tonight and last night that every team is going to come out and work hard,” West said. “The Bemidji States and the North Dakotas aren’t what they were before, and they’re going to bring a lot to the table. Those points are important, just as important as the other ones, and I think everyone is starting to realize that with some of the goofy things that have happened.”

Minnesota turns their focus to a big series on Thanksgiving weekend.

“(We’re) happy with the four points, and excited about Clarkson coming in, one of the best teams out east, and seeing where we stack up with them next weekend,” Frost said.
Gophers Shut Out Clarkson 4-0

Balanced Attack Allows Home Team to Pull Away Late

11/27/09 - Minnesota 4, Clarkson 0

Though this was the first meeting ever between second-ranked Minnesota and third-ranked Clarkson, the story of the game was second chances.

The Gophers (12-2-1, 10-2-1 WCHA) took advantage, scoring their first three goals by getting to rebounds and putting them away.

“From the beginning, we noticed that [Clarkson goalie Lauren Dahm] kicked out a lot of rebounds, but they were pretty high rebounds,” Gopher senior captain Brittany Francis said. “So we adjusted, instead of coming in close, we tried to stay out a little bit, because the rebounds were coming so high, and capitalized on them.”

The game was still a scoreless tie at 11:53 of the second period when Anne Schleper rushed the puck the length of the ice, and fired a shot that Dahm saved. But Dahm could not corral the rebound, and Terra Rasmussen skated onto the loose puck in the slot. Her low shot beat the goalie to the far side for the eventual gamewinner. It was Rasmussen’s third straight game with a goal and her third game-winning goal of the year.

“We wanted to keep getting pucks to the net, and bodies to the net, and it finally paid off with Terra’s goal,” Coach Brad Frost said.

Following a sequence early in the third in which Melissa Waldie of Clarkson (12-3-1, 6-1-0 ECAC) and the Gophers’ Becky Kortum rang shots off the pipes at either end, Kelly Seeler finished off a flurry by the Minnesota second line to double the lead to 2-0.

“Our forwards did a really great job of getting the puck to the net,” Seeler said. “Laura May crashed the net really hard, and as Fran was talking about earlier, the goalie gave up a lot of rebounds today.”

The referees reviewed the video, but the sophomore defenseman’s top-shelf shot stood.

“Seeler’s goal was the result of [May, Kortum, and Chelsey Jones] working really hard,” Frost said.

At 8:01 of the final frame, Francis cashed another rebound to put Minnesota ahead by three. Her goal on the power play was the only special-teams score of the night.

Emily West finished off the scoring a couple of minutes later off a feed from Sarah Erickson.

“Our line was really rolling tonight,” Francis said. “We were really working hard, working well together. Sarah just made a great pass to Westy out front, and she just buried that puck.”

The Minnesota coach thought that the strong play was a constant through his line up.

“I thought that was the best 60 minutes of hockey that we’ve played consecutively this year,” Frost said. “We’ve played a lot of great games, but this was a complete effort, from our goaltender out.”

Räty stopped all 20 shots she faced for her third shutout, but the game may have played out differently but for key stops in the opening minutes, when she denied Waldie twice in rapid succession from the doorstep.

“Noora is amazing,” Francis said. “We all thought it was in on the bench, and then they called it off. It was just great to see.”

Even the goal judge was fooled, turning on the goal light although the puck never got near the net.

“I was just lying on my back, and then I turned, and it just hit my glove,” Räty said. “I was so surprised myself, too. It was a great save, I think.”

The teams conclude their series on Saturday with a 3 p.m. matinee.

“It’s different every game, and I think we just have to work as a team, and do what we did today to be successful in tomorrow’s game,” Seeler said.
Minnesota Blanks Clarkson Again

Two Early Goals By Emily West Enough

11/28/09 - Minnesota 2, Clarkson 0

In the battle of the Golden Knights and the Golden Gophers, neither team looked golden at times during Saturday’s tilt.

“As I told the team, yesterday I thought we won kind of pretty, and then today we won kind of ugly,” Coach Brad Frost said. “But not giving up a goal on the weekend certainly helps.”

Noora Räty added another 21 saves to her perfect series, running her personal scoreless string to 176 minutes and 57 seconds.

Minnesota (13-2-1, 9-2-1 WCHA) was able to hold Clarkson (12-4-1, 6-1-0 ECAC) off the scoreboard in part because of the strong work of the Gopher penalty kill, which did not allow a goal in eight attempts for the Golden Knights’ power play while striking for a short-handed goal of their own.

“We were working hard and playing really aggressive on the kill and they didn’t get a lot of opportunities,” senior defenseman Michelle Maunu said. “If you’re going to jump them like we did, they can’t really do much with it.”

The game was the fifth straight in which the team hasn’t allowed a powerplay goal, but Frost said the team hasn’t changed it’s kill beyond a few minor tweaks from the unit that struggled at times earlier in the year.

“Our goal when we’re out there is to try and not give them the zone and let them skate the puck in, and I thought we did a good job holding the line and forcing them to dump the puck, which allowed our weak-side defensemen to get back there and clear it. They did a great job.”

What he didn’t like were the nine minor penalties which Minnesota commited.

“Where I thought we kind of got in trouble is reaching and using our stick to hook and hold, when I don’t think we needed to do that,” Frost said.

In addition to the fine play by Räty in net and the defensive contributions of the forwards, the Gopher blue line had perhaps its best weekend of the season collectively.

“I think we’re getting used to not necessarily the pairs in general, but everybody, because we kind of have to play with everybody at different times,” Maunu said. “And it’s really coming together well.”

Junior wing Emily West provided all of the offense her team would need when she took a pass from Kelli Blankenship and found the 5-hole on the Clarkson goalie at 6:18 of the first period, with Mira Jalosuo also getting an assist.

“I just saw their defense kind of backing up, and I just went and kind of used her as a screen, and luckily, it went in,” West said.

She provided an insurance goal on the penalty kill just over ten minutes later. Again, she charged in on her off-wing with a feed from Brittany Francis and snapped a shot on goal. Lauren Dahm made the initial save, but the puck bounced straight up over the Clarkson crease. As Francis crashed the net, a Golden Knight defender knocked the puck into her own net.

“I assume that one of their players tried to high-stick it, and it went in – so just a lucky break,” West said.

Both players thought that Minnesota got away from playing their style at times during the series finale.

“We need to start realizing that we’re almost halfway through the season, and that these games are getting more and more important no matter who the opponent,” West said.

The next opponent for Minnesota is the Crimson as the Gophers fly to Boston for a Friday/Saturday series.

“I told the team that it’s going to get even tougher next weekend, because being on the road, travel, and Harvard is more of a team that’s kind of like us, where they’re faster, they’re gritty, and have some good goaltending,” Frost said.
Gophers Shake Off Ugly Start, Defeat Buckeyes 5-2

WCHA Leaders Widen Advantage

1/8/10 - Minnesota 5, Ohio State 2

The Big Ten Network announced this week that Friday’s game against Ohio State would be first Minnesota game of the season to be televised on a tape delay. After the first period in which they were outscored 2-1, it was doubtful if many of the Gopher faithful in the 951 attending planned on viewing it.

“It definitely took a little while to get going; it looked like we hadn’t played in a month, and we hadn’t played in a month,” Coach Brad Frost said.

Minnesota (16-3-2, 12-2-1 WCHA) opened the second period by killing off a minute and seven seconds of Buckeye power play, the only opportunity with the extra skater on the night for OSU (9-8-4, 6-7-2 WCHA). When they got a power play of their own minutes later, Megan Bozek drew the Gophers even at 2-2, blasting a shot from the low slot by a screened goaltender.

“If I hit the net and there was a rebound, I knew my forwards would have gotten it,” Bozek said. “So that’s what I was looking for was a shot to get a rebound.”

“They really did a good job moving the puck, cycling the puck, and working it from low to high,” Frost said. “Boz was able to walk in and just rip it with a good screen.”

At 8:15 of the middle period, Emily West put Minnesota ahead to stay, notching her team best 14th goal of the year.

“I though our energy was great in the second period, we started to get our legs a little bit, and then finished it off in the third,” Frost said.

Terra Rasmussen and Brittany Francis added goals just over a minute apart midway through the final period and Minnesota cruised to a 5-2 victory.

“I think shift by shift we got better, but I still think that it’s the first game, it’s going to be a little rusty,” Francis said.

Francis and her line mates did their part to get the team through the always challenging first game after holiday break. She and West each had a goal and an assist while center Sarah Erickson contributed three assists.

The third line also contributed offensively, with Jaimie Horton and Rasmussen scoring while Kelli Blankenship assisted twice.

Francis said the team regrouped during the first intermission.

“We were talking and everyone was just saying, ‘settle down, do the easy things, and just take it shift by shift.’”

Alyssa Grogan earned her fourth win by stopping 18 shots as WCHA leading Minnesota gained ground on their pursuers. Minnesota-Duluth is idle this weekend, Wisconsin fell in Grand Forks, and next week’s opponent Bemidji State lost an overtime shootout.

The two teams conclude their season series on Saturday with a 4:07 p.m. start.

“I think we have a lot of momentum right now to carry over tomorrow, and if we play our game, I think we’ll do well,” Bozek said.

Gophers Bounce Buckeyes

Ten-Point Effort by Top Line Keys Shutout Win

1/9/10 - Minnesota 6, Ohio State 0

Minnesota extended their head-to-head winning streak versus Ohio State to ten games with a comfortable 6-0 win.

After a start that Coach Brad Frost termed “sluggish” on Friday, the Gophers (17-3-2, 13-2-1 WCHA) were ready at the drop of the puck on Saturday.

Emily West scored on a wrist shot right off of an offensive-zone faceoff at 1:08 of the first period.

“Obviously, the first few shifts were real important, our first shift in particular, getting a couple shots on net and being able to score another shift later was just great,” Frost said.

Anne Schleper carried in from the blue line and scored high blocker less than six minutes later to up the lead to 2-0.

“Even though we are strong defensively in our end, that’s definitely a huge part going into their end,” Schleper said. “We have a lot of D that are capable of bringing the puck up, and shooting, making plays – anything like that.”

Brittany Francis took a pass in the slot from West coming around the net with just nine seconds to go before intermission.

Going into the locker room down three goals, the Buckeyes (9-9-4, 6-8-2 WCHA) were never able to seriously challenge from that point.

Katie Frischmann got her first Gopher goal, taking a pass from Sam Downey behind the net and burying it for the only scoring of the second period.

Schleper scored her second goal of the game on Sarah Erickson’s career high fourth assist.

“Frosty has made a point that we each score 40 goals in practice,” Schleper said. “It’s called a Sure Shot, to make sure we get them in the corners. I think it’s definitely showing that practice does make perfect, and it shows up in a game.”

After starting the season on a goal-scoring binge, Sarah Erickson has been piling up the assists of late. Her seven helpers on the weekend built her season total to 14.

“As long as we’re winning, I’m glad to produce any way I can,” Erickson said. “Right now, we’re first in the WCHA, and that’s where we want to be, and I’m going to help my team out either way.”

Her linemates Francis and West each had three-point games, giving the trio a total of ten on the night.

“I think we’re clicking together very nicely,” Erickson said. “It’s fun to play, very fun.”

Becky Kortum cleaned up the garbage after a shot by Laura May trickled through the goaltender for the final 6-0 margin.

“Everybody contributed again tonight and just did a wonderful job,” Frost said. “Alyssa Grogan was fantastic in net, pitching a shutout tonight, which we really needed.”

“Self-admittedly, she was not very good in the first period yesterday either, but she’s gone five periods without giving up a goal, which is pretty special.”

Minnesota knows they’ll need Grogan, who made 26 saves, at her best to achieve their goals in the second half.

“She’s been very positive with us throughout the whole season and just waiting for her time to get up and show the hockey team and the hockey fans what she’s all about, and I think she did a great job of that today,” Erickson said of her classmate.

The Gophers have a busy week coming up, hosting the United States Olympic Team in a Tuesday night exhibition, before traveling to Bemidji for Friday and Saturday games versus the Beavers.
Photo Courtesy of Shane @ Necessary Exposure

Gophers Entertain Olympic-Bound Team USA

Hockey games aren’t about moral victories. But when Minnesota hosted the United States Olympic Team, it was an exhibition, not a regular game; forgive the hosts if they felt like winners after the USA’s 8-5 victory.

Yes, the national team blitzed the Gophers out of the gate, swarming the net as though on a power play when both were at full strength. On the game’s second shift, Minnesota couldn’t get the puck cleared from their end for 75 seconds, and when they were finally able to make a hasty line change, Team USA took advantage of the confusion to net a rebound for a 1-0 lead. The U.S. continued to dominate territorially and on the shot chart, upping their lead to two on a laser under the crossbar by former Gopher Monique Lamoureux at 13:21.

Subtly, the tide began to change and Minnesota began to compete at a level closer to that of the Red, White, and Blue. With the Gophers on a power play, Chelsey Jones fed Sam Downey in the low slot. The freshman put a quick shot on goaltender Brianne McLaughlin and got a couple whacks at the rebound, getting the puck by the keeper, but not across the line. Senior Alexandra Zebro pounced, flicking the puck into the cage; the defenseman had only two goals in her 105 games as a Gopher, and none of the one-foot variety.

Team USA answered immediately with Erika Lawler finding Hillary Knight alone on the back door, and the teams went to the first intermission with the United States up 3-1.

“It seemed like right after we scored, they’d score, but it really didn’t deflate us that much,” captain Emily West said.

West drew the Gophers within a goal once more at 7:06 of the second period on a sensational individual effort. With the teams each having a player in the penalty box, West blocked a shot from the point by Caitlin Cahow with her upper body, corralled the puck, and raced up the ice as Cahow fell. Despite being at the end of her shift, West eluded a charging Julie Chu and beat McLaughlin low on her blocker side.

“With every goal as time went on, we really didn’t get down on our selves,” West said. “We realized, “Hey, we can do this. We’re giving them a good fight, and we’re popping goals in.” We just need to keep it up and we’ll be rewarded eventually.”

Again the USA responded within a minute, with Lamoureux getting her second on a rebound.

Minnesota took advantage of the stoppage to switch goaltenders. Noora Räty’s night was done, having stopped 29 of 33 shots in just under 28 minutes.

“It was especially hard for me because I came here yesterday,” she said.

Räty just flew back from Germany, where she had competed with Team Finland in the MLP Cup last week.

“We knew that we were going to use Jenny [Lura] tonight,” Coach Brad Frost said. “We just found out a couple of days ago that Alyssa [Grogan] wouldn’t be able to go. That, quite frankly, just gave Jenny some more time and a little more opportunity.”

“I was really happy that she was able to get a period and a half. All those shots probably felt like a game and a half. She played well. It’s not an easy situation to get thrown into the lions like that.”

While Lura kept the American offense at bay for the remainder of the 2nd period, Kelli Blankenship provided Minnesota with some offense. Blankenship took a long bank pass from Brittany Francis just as she hit the blue line and snapped a shot into the top of the net.

“I called the Blank Special that one coming down the right side, her first one,” Frost said. “She does that in practice all the time, except the goalies just stand there and catch it, because they know it’s coming.”

This time, the Gophers withstood the flurry in response to their goal, and in the period’s final minute, applied some pressure of their own. After a couple of quality scoring chances, Mira Jalosuo moved in from the point took a shot from the left boards. Jones deflected the shot, and after McLaughlin got a pad on it, she slid the rebound to the right edge of the crease where Blankenship tapped it home.

“She was just driving the net and doing a lot of really, really good things,” Frost said.

As improbable as it seemed, Minnesota had come from two goals down to tie the game after two periods.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be an absolute blowout like it has been with a couple of others, but that’s just Gopher hockey,” former Gopher and future US Olympian Gigi Marvin said. “We knew they had speed; it’s always been speed. Every year I played, they had good forwards, and they snipe on those breakaways. When don’t you see a Gopher do that?”

Inevitably, the superior talent and depth of Team USA proved decisive midway through the final period. They put the game out of reach with a quick three-goal burst.

“We pulled together in the third, and came out strong, and got a few quick goals, and I think that kind of deflated them,” said Natalie Darwitz, who scored the second of those goals on a power play.

Deflated or not, Minnesota wasn’t done. Blankenship edged the Gophers closer at 18:57 when she completed her hat trick with a wrap-around goal.

“The one thing that separates Kelli from almost everybody else on our team is she can skate at this speed, so the game wasn’t as fast,” Frost said. “Once she got that first goal, the confidence really started to rise. Last year when we played the US National team, she got a goal as well. She’s had some good success against the national team.”

Successful or not, a hat trick against the best team the country has to offer was unexpected, coming from a player who had not scored one in her 130 games wearing the “M”.

“ And I don’t know if the Olympic Team has given up a hat trick to anybody else either,” Frost said. “She just started getting stuff to the net.”

If everyone else was surprised by her performance, Blankenship was not.

“I did a little bit of mental focus before the game,” she said. “I set some high expectations. I definitely reached for it.”

She also noted that though she may have been the one credited with the goals, it was a true team effort.

Blankenship said, “As a line, we just kept saying, “Find a way, find a way. No matter what it takes, find a way.” I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”

With a noisy crowd of 2,240 witnessing a hard-fought, competitive game, the game was about as successful as such an exhibition can be.

“I think the Gophers were a little amped up tonight,” Darwitz said. “It’s probably a bigger crowd than what they’re used to. I think they played with a chip on their shoulder, as far as a lot of them felt they maybe should have got an opportunity to be on this team possibly, or an opportunity for an invite in August [to the tryout camp.]”

West said the dream of a spot in the Olympics is a common one.

“I think every girl out there feels like there’s a chance, and whether it’s now or later in life, it’s time to step up,” she said. “We just played with a lot of heart and had nothing to lose.”

For the former Gophers, the game served as a homecoming, and they were greeted warmly by the crowd.

“I had a blast,” Marvin said. “I think I had a smile on my face the entire game. It was great to be back.”

Now both teams turn their attention to more important matters. For Team USA, that means the Vancouver Olympic Games in February.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Darwitz said. “With a month to go to the Olympics, the goal for us is to put us in situations where we keep improving.”

“It’s crunch time. We can’t look back at these times and think, “I wish I would have done more; I wish I could have done more.” That’s important for us.”

For Marvin, embarking on her first Games, this is all new.

“I’m looking forward to it, I’m excited,” she said. “Every athlete wants to be the person out there helping your teammates out with the game on the line. Some people thrive under that, and I certainly enjoy it. And I know my teammates enjoy it. Hopefully we’re ready, we’re excited to go when it comes, because it is only one chance.”

Minnesota’s important games start Friday with a series in Bemidji.

“Tonight didn’t win us anything,” West said. “It was a fun game, but it’s over. We’ve got to take what we did well from it, and try to carry it into league play. If we can play like we did tonight, I think we have a very good chance of achieving our goals in the end of the second half.”

The coaching staff has the job of leveraging this effort into a successful championship run.

“We gained more from this game than we will gain from any game all year. We now know what we can aspire to be, and how we can play. The key now is when we face teams that obviously are not as good as this one, to continue to keep that compete level and battle level up.”

And while most of the focus is on the Olympics and this season’s NCAA campaign, in the world of sports, there’s always next year.

“It’s good to see that they capitalized on their opportunities tonight, just because they’re a hard-working, blue collar team,” Darwitz said. “But I’m excited to come back next year and be behind the bench again.”
Gophers Bank Another Two Points Versus North Dakota

Shutout Continues Mastery of Sioux

1/22/10 - Minnesota 3, North Dakota 0

Minnesota met North Dakota on the ice for the twenty-seventh time, and though it went into the Gophers’ win column like all those that came before, it wouldn’t rank high in artistry.

“As you saw, we didn’t play our best game tonight,” Coach Brad Frost said.

His team started well, recording 11 shots on goal before Noora Räty was called upon to make her first save.

The Gophers (17-3-4, 13-2-4 WCHA) were able to play with a lead throughout, as Laura May scored her sixth goal of the season and first since October 30th less than 4 minutes into the contest. The junior wing picked up a UND centering attempt in her own zone and wheeled up the left side. One defenseman fell at center ice, the other lost the foot race, and May was able to go in alone, showing the puck to goaltender Jorid Dagfinrud before flipping a backhand by her.

“I practice that one a lot when we have our showdowns in practice,” May said “It’s kind of my favorite move, so I guess I just whipped it out there.”

Once North Dakota (5-13-4, 4-12-2 WCHA) got going, they played the Gophers even on the shot chart and kept them off the scoreboard for the remainder of the first period and throughout the second.

“Hats off to North Dakota; they matched our intensity and then some, and were really carrying the play there for a while,” Frost said.

The Sioux had the better of the scoring chances during that time, and that they weren’t able to convert any of them was due largely to the efforts of Räty.

“Noora was great again, and kept us in there when we needed her to,” Frost said.

The coaching staff challenged the team during the second intermission, and they responded with a better final period, outshooting UND 12-4 and salting the game away with a pair of goals. Sarah Erickson broke a scoring drought of her own on the power play at 8:24 with Megan Bozek getting the only assist.

“I told the girls right when I got in the box, it’s never felt so good to score a goal after that large slump,” Erickson said. “Nonetheless, it was a goal to help our team go up by two goals, and that’s big.”

Erickson’s previous goal came on November 20th.

“That one tonight is an example of what she needs to do,” Frost said. “She drove the net hard, and that was good to see.”

North Dakota pulled Dagfinrud for an extra attacker with almost three minutes remaining, and Chelsey Jones made them pay, connecting from beyond the red line.

“It’s a risk/reward with a couple of minutes left and up by two,” Frost said. “I think she had a pretty good look at it.”

Räty finished with 18 saves, a number of them difficult, in posting her sixth shutout.

“We give her a lot of breakaways in practice, and she really shuts us down, so it’s very encouraging to see that,” May said. “We might be lagging a little bit during the games, and when she comes up with those big saves, it really gets us going.”

Erickson said the team must do all of the little things and avoid lulls if they want a satisfying end to the season.

“If we want to be a championship team – which we do – we can’t have ten minutes here, ten minutes there. We have to play a full 60 minutes.”
Minnesota Does Enough To Sweep Sioux

Weekend Shutout Maintains 7-Point WCHA Lead

1/23/10 - Minnesota 2, North Dakota 0

With a few notable exceptions, Minnesota turned in a second straight uneven performance against the visitors from North Dakota. Because one of those exceptions was tending goal for the Gophers (19-3-4, 15-2-4 WCHA), they were able to leave the ice with a 2-0 win.

“We battled and competed for about 30 minutes tonight, and still it was enough to win,” Coach Brad Frost said. “And a lot of that is thanks to Noora.”

The Fighting Sioux (5-15-4, 4-14-2 WCHA) mounted only 19 shots on goal, but many of them were of the quality scoring chance variety, particularly in a second period that saw them outshoot their hosts by a 13-6 margin. Noora Räty met the challenge each time.

“Of course I have to step up when our defense isn’t playing well, but I’m the type of person who is always just mentally ready,” she said.

That was fortuitous, because time and again UND broke in alone or two-on-one.

“We weren’t very happy with that,” defenseman Anne Schleper said. “We really take pride in playing in our D zone, and that’s one of the things that we’ve concentrated on most. Tonight definitely showed some weakness and things that we have to be practicing this coming week.”

Another bright spot for Minnesota over the weekend was the play of Laura May, who notched her second gamewinner in as many days. May, skating on the team’s lesser used White power play, scored the game’s first goal late in the second period by taking a feed from Michelle Maunu and hitting the top corner from the right circle. Kelli Blankenship added the other assist.

“They’ve been doing some great things in practice, and [the coaching staff] gave them that opportunity, and huge goal getting that first one and getting that monkey of our back a little bit,” Frost said.

The conference-leading Gophers restored order in the third period, outshooting their visitors 15-3 and getting the only tally off the stick of Blankenship, following up a shot by Schleper.

“I just took my time, I knew I had to get it on net, knew that someone was going to be there,” Schleper said of her initial shot after Alexandra Zebro fed her at the left point.

The shutout win was the seventh of Räty’s rookie season, and it increased her scoreless streak to 181:19. The stretch also includes stopping six straight shootout attempts following the second tie in Bemidji.

“When you get a lot of breakaways and shootouts, it just gives you more power to stop the next breakaway or shootout,” Räty said.

Still, the Gophers know that they have some issues that they need to solve at both ends of the ice.

“Somebody is going to have to step up, and I would prefer it to be our captains and our seniors, and hopefully they’ll do that and kind of carry us on our way,” Frost said.
Revamped Gophers Fight Past Mavericks

3-Goal Second Period Proves Pivotal

1/29/10 - Minnesota 4, Minnesota State-Mankato 2

Minnesota had become proficient at beating its opponents to the punch, scoring first, and parlaying that early lead into a win on 17 of 19 occasions. But against Minnesota State-Mankato, the Gophers faced the first deficit for only the seventh time this year, and they only had two prior wins in such situations. Make it three.

Minnesota (20-3-4, 16-2-3 WCHA) fought back from 1-0 and 2-1 first period deficits on the strength of three goals in the second frame for a 4-2 triumph.

“I was really impressed with just how our team came back in the second period and really started getting pucks to the net,” Coach Brad Frost said.

Emily West pounced on a rebound for the equalizer just 14 seconds into a 5-on-3 power play chance. She upped her team-leading goal total to 16.

Eight minutes later, a pair of freshman forwards had added the gamewinner and an insurance goal, and the Mavericks (4-16-5, 2-14-5 WCHA) had no response.

Sam Downey fished a puck out of a massive pile-up in the Mankato crease and flipped it into the net at 9:13.

“I’ve made that mistake too many times, where you just keep pushing at it,” she said. “So I guess after a while, you finally learn, and you have a little patience, and it goes in.”

It was Downey’s second goal of the year and her first on home ice. New line mates West and Kelli Blankenship both assisted.

“The first period was a little shakey,” Downey said. “We’ve only had a couple practices together. As the game went on, it got a lot more comfortable.”

The team’s lead got more comfortable as well when Becky Kortum wound up with a turnover on her stick along the goal line extended.

“It started out with our line forechecking hard and the puck bounced out at the right spot, and I just threw it on net, because I didn’t have any other options,” she said of her unassisted goal.

Neither team succeeded in finding the net from that point, as a total of 13 penalties over the second half of the contest drained it of any flow.

“Both teams were fighting the puck,” Kortum said. “Their goalie was fighting the puck, and I think that gave us the edge, because [Alyssa] Grogan kept her cool and played really well in net.”

Grogan saved 22 of 24 shots and improved to 6-1 on the season.

“I thought Grogs settled in as well,” Frost said. “We didn’t give her much help there in the first period, but after that, did a really nice job for us.”

Minnesota shuffled three of four forward lines for the contest, and it looked like it during a disjointed opening 20 minutes, when they had trouble connecting on passes and establishing any cohesion.

“The first period, I thought we again started fairly slow, and got outshot two to one there and got outscored two to one as well,” Frost said.

The key to the game may have been on the shift after Ashley Young notched the game’s first goal for MSU. Minnesota won the faceoff and got the puck into the Maverick zone. Kortum won a battle in the corner, Laura May got a shot on goal, Chelsey Jones buried the rebound, and the Gophers had erased the lead after just 13 seconds.

“I think scoring that goal definitely set the tone,” Jones said. “Even though they came back with another goal, we were able to get the momentum going from there.”

The game was the third straight where the line centered by Kortum scored the team’s first goal.

“I thought that line in even the first period, while the rest of our team was maybe struggling a little bit, I thought they generated a lot of chances, were putting good energy on the puck,” Frost said. “I guess that’s to be expected when they stay together, but that’s why we kept them together, because I really feel like they were starting to gel and come together as a line. That was huge for us, big response.”

Frost said the team switched around the line combinations in the hope of creating some more energy and scoring chances, while leaving Jones, May, and Kortum intact, in recognition of their recent surge.

“We were fortunate to have cohesiveness, and we’re staying together as a line,” Jones said. “I think we’re getting stronger and stronger.”
Greater Comfort Leads to a More Comfortable Win

Minnesota Smooths Off Some Rough Edges In Sweep

1/30/10 - Minnesota 4, Minnesota State-Mankato 1

Although the game-winning goal actually came a few seconds later on Saturday than it had on Friday, the Gophers seemed more in control throughout as they completed another WCHA sweep, defeating Minnesota State-Mankato 4-1.

Senior captain Brittany Francis led the attack with the opening goal and three assists.

“She’s just a second half player,” Coach Brad Frost said. “I don’t know if it’s the thought of the end of the year, or the end of her career, or what it is.”

Francis has racked up 10 points in 8 games in the second half after accumulating 15 points over the season’s first 20 games. She gave the Gophers (21-3-4, 17-2-3 WCHA) a 1-0 lead at 13:39 of the first period moments after she flew a shot just wide of an open top corner.

“I was actually pretty frustrated with that for a while, because yesterday I hit the crossbar, and today I missed by just barely an inch,” Francis said. “It was just hard work by my line, [Megan] Bozek getting it to the net, and I was just lucky to be there and bouncing it in.”

At 9:30 of the 2nd period, less than two minutes after Lauren Smith had tied it up for the Mavericks (4-17-5, 2-15-5 WCHA), Emily West scored the gamewinner on the power play.

“Just responding right away really takes the wind out of the other team’s sails,” West said.

West finished off a nice passing play, with Francis getting her first of three primary assists on the day.

“Fran had great patience and just waited for me to get my stick out there and rotate up toward the top of the crease and just made the pass and it was an easy goal from there,” West said.

Terra Rasmussen provided Minnesota with some insurance 4:34 into the final period, burying a Francis feed in the slot.

“Today I felt like we really clicked,” Francis said. “We got a lot better, and we saw each other, and we heard each other, and I thought we played really well today.”

Anne Schleper finished off the scoring in the final minutes with another PP goal.

“It was not a real hard shot, but it got through, and it was a direct result of Westy and her screen,” Frost said.

Alyssa Grogan made 23 saves in upping her mark to 7-1.

“I had a blast out there, and definitely built my confidence, and I’m ready to go now,” she said.

Minnesota now turns its attention to a crucial series in Duluth next weekend. Leading the Bulldogs by at least seven points pending the result of UMD’s game in Grand Forks on Sunday, the Gophers could wrap up the WCHA regular season title or allow the ‘Dogs back into the race.

“I love playing against Duluth,” Francis said. “They’re one of my favorite series, because I have some friends on that team, and we’ve always just had like a friendly rivalry. But I’m excited for it.”
Gophers Salvage Tie, One Point vs Huskies

SCSU Capitalizes on Chances for Shootout Win

2/12/10 - St. Cloud State 2, Minnesota 2

For much of the WCHA season, Minnesota has taken advantage of an edge in goaltending over its opponents. With Noora Räty gone to the Olympics, the Gophers (21-5-5, 17-4-4 WCHA) find themselves on the other side of that comparison with increasing frequency.

On Friday night at Ridder Arena, St. Cloud State (12-12-7, 9-11-4 WCHA) made the most of the few looks they got at the Minnesota net, converting their first two power play shots of the game in the first period. When the Gophers battled to tie that game at 2-2 and force a scoreless overtime, the Huskies scored the only two shootout goals.

“The effort was good, and we’d feel a lot better if we had won the shootout,” Coach Brad Frost said.

Coming into the game on the wrong end of a sweep in Duluth that saw their once-comfortable WCHA lead reduced to three points, Minnesota desperately needed a win of any kind on their home ice. Instead, the tie and UMD’s OT win over Ohio State shaved another point off the Gophers’ advantage in the standings.

“I think that’s in the back of everyone’s mind, that we need to do so well to get a certain position in the standings in the league,” said Katie Frischmann, who scored the tying goal for Minnesota. “But no one really talks about it in the locker room. We know we have to do well, we know we have to win every game.”

That Minnesota was unable to win this time was largely thanks to the efforts of Husky netminder Ashley Nixon who turned back 35 of 37 shots and both Gopher shootout attempts. And when Nixon didn’t stop them, too often the Gophers stopped themselves.

“They’re trying,” Frost said of his skaters. “They’re working hard. They know that they need to score goals. Our top goal scorer, [Emily West,] is out of the lineup. Our number one goalie is in Vancouver. We need some of our big-time players to start stepping up and putting the puck in the net for us.”

With Minnesota staring at a 2-1 deficit in the third period, Frischmann and Nikki Ludwigson did combine to do just that.

“Being on the fourth line and not getting too many chances to play, my goal every game is when I get a chance to go out there, I’m just going to go and give it everything I’ve got – move my feet a hundred miles an hour,” Frischmann said. “Nikki worked really hard as well, and I just happened to be in front of the net and get the tip on it.”

That would prove to be the last time the Gophers would find the St. Cloud net.

Brittany Francis had staked her team to an early 1-0 lead at 9:38 of the opening period.

“[Terra Rasmussen] walked around behind the net, and I was just screaming for [the puck],” Francis said. “She made an amazing pass – the defense had no idea. I just whacked at it, and it went in.”

That was a rare occurrence – the Gophers came away empty on numerous quality chances. Meanwhile, the Huskies converted a pair of largely anemic power plays into two quick goals and a lead. SCSU managed only 14 shots on goal for the game.

“The second goal – off a skate and to the back door, and it goes in the net,” Frost said. “But the first one, we need that save.”

Goals allowed become magnified when the offense isn’t clicking.

“Everybody goes through those ups and downs in the season, and it’s a struggle when you’re in it,” Francis said.

In this case, maybe the rookie had the best solution.

“Go out there and work hard; anyone can score,” Frischmann said.

Playing without leading scorer Emily West, Minnesota lost defenseman Mira Jalosuo to a second-period injury, as they head into an early 2 p.m. start for the conclusion of the home-and-home series in St. Cloud.

We’re thin, but this time of year, you’ve got to battle through,” Frost said.
Skid Continues, Gophers Fall 4-3 in OT

Winless Streak Grows to Five

2/19/10 – Wisconsin 4, Minnesota 3

Through the final three series of the WCHA season, the Gophers have struggled to come up with the key play – the must-have save, the crucial clear, the timely goal.

When Emily West scored an extra-attacker goal with 17 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime, it looked like Minnesota (21-7-5, 18-7-4 WCHA) finally had fate smiling in their direction. Instead, Carolyne Prevost got free on the edge of the crease in the final minute of OT to give Wisconsin (18-12-3, 15-12-1 WCHA) a 4-3 win and their third straight upset of the Gophers this season.

“Sometimes, they don’t go your way, the bounces, and you just have to fight through it and make it go your way,” West said. “Eventually we did, but it didn’t end up how we wanted.”

At the start of overtime, it looked like the gamewinner would be scored much sooner and by Minnesota.

“The first couple shifts in overtime, we had some chances, and they didn’t go in,” Coach Brad Frost said. “Then they get that one at the end.”

West made the bonus hockey necessary when she hit the net from the left point with the Gopher net empty behind her.

“I knew time was kind of running out, and Sarah [Erickson] was in front screening the goalie, and it just happened to go in,” West said. “Times like that, when we’re in their end with ten seconds left, we just try to get the puck on net, and make the puck do the work.”

Over the past five games, the puck has gone anywhere but into the net on similar shots.

“We finally got paid off, I think, for the hard work that they were doing in the third,” Frost said.

Minnesota’s ultimate undoing may have been the work that they failed to do earlier in the game. After jumping out to a two-goal lead, the Gophers allowed the Badgers to score the next three goals for a 3-2 lead at the second intermission.

“We came out quick the first ten minutes, playing pretty well,” Frost said. “In my opinion, we then took the next 30 minutes off.”

Part of the problem during that stretch was penalties – Minnesota committed seven minors over the first two periods and Wisconsin made them pay with 2 power play goals.

“Mistakes, undisciplined penalties – again, and eventually, this team will learn,” Frost said. “And if they don’t, then we’ll be feeling like this for the whole summer.”

The players at least seem to understand the problem.

“Right now, we’re talking about taking penalties, and that’s the one thing that we really want to look toward bettering ourselves,” Erickson said. “I think that when we’re taking penalties, we’re not going to get those chances to score.”

Erickson scored on the first shift of the game, and it appeared that it might be the Gophers’ night. Sam Downey added a goal on the power play to double the lead before the Badgers struck.

The loss was a costly one, dropping Minnesota into a tie in the WCHA race that they have led all season. It also allowed Minnesota-Duluth to move past them and claim the second spot in the PairWise Rankings.

“We’re working hard, we’re getting shots, we’re doing all the little things right, but we just need to be positive,” Erickson said.

One positive was that Emily West returned to the lineup after missing last weekend’s series with an injury.

“It’s hard to get back at it right away after being out, but it’s going well so far,” West said.
(Photo Courtesy of Peter Whitney)

Gophers Claim Share of WCHA Title

Late Comeback Forges Tie with UMD for Top

2/20/10 – Minnesota 3, Wisconsin 2

Friday, the Gophers came close; on Saturday, they got over the hump. This time after battling back to tie Wisconsin late in the third, Minnesota (22-7-5, 18-6-4 WCHA) was the team to bury a gamewinner and erupt in celebration.

Because Chelsey Jones’ winning goal came with 100 seconds remaining in the third period rather than in sudden death, the Gophers had to wait a bit to mob winning goalie Alyssa Grogan. But because the 3-2 win also brought a share of the WCHA regular season championship, nobody seemed to mind.

“It’s definitely a big moment in a big win, and I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time,” Jones said.

Of course, being in that right place is often more plan than accident.

“Becky Kortum had the puck on her stick in the neutral zone to the offensive zone,” Jones said. “She’s a left-handed shot, she’s coming down, and she’s waiting, waiting, waiting – very poised. She just passes it across, and this big watermelon comes at me and I just hit it home.”

Just as crucial was Kelly Seeler’s powerplay tally on a rebound at 14:52 of the final frame to pull Minnesota into a 2-2 tie.

“The rebounds have been there, they’ve been popping out everywhere, and it’s just a matter of getting sticks on it,” Seeler said.

Wisconsin came out of the first period up a goal at 2-1 and held that lead most of the way, but the deficit could have been worse but for the play of Alyssa Grogan in the Gopher goal.
“Alyssa Grogan was unbelievable all night,” Coach Brad Frost said. “She was the difference, keeping us in the game when we needed her to.”

Grogan stopped several prime opportunities by the Badgers, including stoning Brook Ammerman on a penalty shot.

“I knew it would kind of help our team get a little bit of momentum going,” Grogan said. “It felt good to stop her. I’ve played with her a lot, and she’s scored on me a lot. I owed her one.”

Anne Schleper also scored, and six different Gophers contributed assists.

“We needed a win for a multitude of reasons,” Frost said. “One being we hadn’t won in a while. Needed something positive going into the playoffs here. We’re still going to be hanging a banner, and we’re still WCHA champions.”

Due to an untimely slump, Minnesota definitely didn’t take the easy way to the title, but they did find a way.

“I think it says a lot about our team and the talent that we have – the dedication, and the hard work, and the willingness to get it done,” Grogan said.

The Gophers next face Minnesota State-Mankato on Friday night at Ridder in a WCHA quarterfinal series.

“We were talking about once you hit rock bottom, you can only go up, and I think this game especially is going to bounce us back up there,” Seeler said.
Offense Rules in First Playoff Win

Strong Third Period Offsets Spotty Defense

2/26/10 – Minnesota 8, Minnesota State-Mankato 5

The postseason is all about winning. In their postseason opener, Minnesota (23-7-5, 18-6-4 WCHA) accomplished that mission with a 8-5 victory over Minnesota State-Mankato (7-21-5, 5-18-5 WCHA).

“Maybe not the way that we had planned on having our first game of playoffs, but we came out with a ‘W’, so that’s what matters,” junior wing Laura May said.

May and her center, Becky Kortum, led the way with a goal and two assists apiece, while line mate Chelsey Jones added the gamewinner.

Having squandered several leads along the way, the Gophers came out for the final period with the score knotted at 5-5. Jones volleyed Michelle Maunu’s shot out of the air and into the Maverick net with 3:32 elapsed. It was the senior’s second consecutive game-winning goal.

“We’ve been talking a lot about how we need to improve, being the only line that really got to stay together throughout the whole year,” May said.

Their improvement has frequently bettered the Minnesota fortunes as well of late. Kortum picked up the puck off a face off in the Mankato end 4 minutes later and beat Paige Thunder on the short side for some insurance.

“Today I felt like I had my legs; I thought I was moving pretty good,” Kortum said. “My line as a whole, we played really well together. We just tried to set the tempo for the team, and kept going hard to the net.”

Alexandra Zebro put the game out of reach with her first goal of the year with Jones providing a screen in front for the final 8-5 margin.

“We’ve just been keeping at it, and I think it’s starting to go for us,” May said.

Minnesota appeared to have things going their way earlier, but 2-0, 3-1, 4-2, and 5-3 leads all proved short lived. Inspired play by MSU and sloppy defense by the hosts made for a doubtful welcome back from the Olympics for goaltender Noora Räty.

A day after backstopping Team Finland to a bronze medal, Räty found herself besieged throughout a second period she described as “brutal”, as the Gophers were outscored 4-2.

“We gave up tap-ins that we haven’t given up in quite some time,” Coach Brad Frost said.

Räty routinely denies such quality scoring chances, but fresh off the emotional highs of the Olympics and with her father viewing a game in Ridder for the first time all season, the contest was far from routine.

“I felt bad for her,” Frost said. “I wouldn’t consider any of those goals fault on her.”

“It was so hard to prepare mentally,” Räty said. “I just want to go there and play and give the team a chance for a win. Just have fun out there.”

“This is just like a family for me, and I just love to play here. I was so pumped to get back and see all those girls.”

Luckily, Minnesota brought some jump on the offensive end, especially Kortum’s line.

“I thought it was her best game of the year,” Frost said. “Not just because she scored that goal in the third, but on May’s goal, she was the reason, driving to the net, taking two players, screening.”

With each game, the freshman center is looking more like the player who won the state’s Ms. Hockey award as a high school senior last year.

“I think she got through the first half, and now she’s really opening up, and we’re loving what we’re getting out of her now,” May said.

Mira Jalosuo fired in her first goal of the season. Sam Downey, Emily West, and Sarah Erickson also found the back of the net.

The Gophers are a win away from reaching the WCHA Final Face-Off.

“One game down, and another one to go, and hopefully, we can advance tomorrow,” Frost said.

Game two of the series is at 4:07 P.M. on Saturday in Ridder Arena.
Minnesota Endures Longest Game in Program History

West Notches Gamewinner in Third Overtime

2/27/10 – Minnesota 4, Minnesota State-Mankato 3 – 3OT

Minnesota State-Mankato fought to extend their season another day. The Gophers were equally determined to end the quarterfinal series in two games and advance to the WCHA Final Face-Off.

When the teams faced off on Saturday, nobody could have guessed that it would take over one hundred minutes of hockey to decide which team would ultimately get their way.

Emily West fired in a wrist shot at 1:16 of the third OT to gain a 4-3 win for Minnesota (24-7-5, 18-6-4 WCHA).

“Just threw it low left and it went in,” West said. “Pretty happy to have that one over with after three overtimes.”

West had picked up the puck after Anne Schleper’s shot rebounded off of the endboards, one of four assists Schleper had on the day.

“I think if anything, my legs were happy to have it done,” Schleper said.

Long before, Moira O’Connor had scored her second goal of the game at 2:47 of the third period to lift the Mavericks (7-22-5, 5-18-5 WCHA) into a 3-3 tie.

Then Minnesota’s Noora Räty and MSU’s Alli Altmann matched save for save for over 58 minutes as their offenses searched for a decisive goal.

“I thought we carried the play often times in the overtimes and had some great chances, but it just took a long time to have that one finally go in,” Coach Brad Frost said. “Noora made some great saves as we needed her to in overtime.”

Räty finished with 41 saves, a career high, in improving to 16-2-4 on the year. She also garnered her third assist of the season, a new high-water mark for Minnesota goalies.

Kelli Blankenship had broken clear to give the Gophers a short-lived 3-2 lead in the final seconds of the second period. Minnesota also got powerplay goals from Megan Bozek on a 5-on-3 onetimer, and Brittany Francis.

Early on, the game seemed to lack playoff intensity.

“I felt like we had more jump as the game went on versus at the beginning,” Frost said.

“Positive talk on the bench helped us,” Schleper said. “I think that kept our motivation going and our energy and our drive to just keep going out there every shift.”

Extra motivation came from the knowledge that a win on Saturday would earn the team a day off on Sunday.

“That’s what we were saying – we don’t want to be here tomorrow, we shouldn’t be here tomorrow,” West said. “I think that really paid off for us.”

Frost is hoping that the nail-biting finish will pay dividends down the road.

“I don’t think it hurts us in any way, since especially we came out with the win,” he said. “They’ve now been in a situation where they’re in an overtime game, or two, or three overtimes, and not many teams have that same experience. If we ever get to it again, we’ll have that to lean on.”

Minnesota next hosts the Final Face-Off at Ridder, with the first semifinal starting at noon on Saturday.

Minnesota Advances to WCHA Championship Game

May Provides Latest Sudden Victory

3/6/10 – Minnesota 5, Ohio State 4 – 2OT

Perhaps it should have surprised no one that the Gophers and Buckeyes needed more than 60 minutes to resolve their WCHA semifinal game.

Minnesota (25-7-5, 18-6-4 WCHA) had played an overtime game in each of its previous three series. Ohio State (17-15-5, 12-13-3 WCHA) required bonus hockey for its last three games. There is no time-and-a-half pay for extra work, so these people must love their jobs.

Laura May ended the proceedings in the Gophers’ favor at 3:31 of the second overtime session, providing the final lead change in her team’s 5-4 victory.

“That whole play is just a blur right now,” May said. “I believe [Becky] Kortum put it on net for the first shot; (OSU goalie Chelsea Knapp) made a great save. [Chelsey] Jones was right there for the rebound; again she made a great save. I was lucky enough to be standing in front of an empty net, and I put it away.”

At numerous points in the first OT, the game seemed on the verge of ending. Laura McIntosh hit the pipe for the Buckeyes; Jones clanked a shot off the crossbar at the other end. Jones even floated the puck over Knapp and into the net at one point, but video review indicated that the puck was directed into the net with a hand, nullifying the goal.

The extra hockey came on the heels of a tumultuous final 8:05 of regulation. Kelli Blankenship scored off a blocked shot to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead, only to have Raelyn LaRocque answer back a scant 12 seconds later.

Natalie Spooner put the Buckeyes up 3-2 at 16:45 on a brilliant solo effort while shorthanded.

“She was turning our D inside out at times,” Gopher coach Brad Frost said. “She’s a great player; there’s a reason she was on the (All-WCHA) First team.”

Another Buckeye was sent to the penalty box, and Brittany Francis converted at 17:25.

“It was a 5-on-3, so it’s my spot to be in the middle,” Francis said. “We do practice that quite a bit, going down to [Emily West] and up to me or across to Sarah [Erickson].”

It was the senior captain’s second goal of the game, having scored Minnesota’s first goal on a second-period power play.

With the teams skating 4-on-4, Anne Schleper sniped a wrist shot under the crossbar for a 4-3 Minnesota lead with under a minute and a half remaining.

“Sometimes it’s tough to just look past all of those players in front of you, but I knew I had a lane, and I knew that (Knapp’s) habit was to go down,” Schleper said. “So I just kept that in mind, and knew that I had players if there was a rebound.”

But OSU pulled their goalie while on a final power play and scored with a 6-on-4 skater advantage at 19:42 to tie the game at 4-4.

“After a couple periods of not many goals, the floodgates opened both ways in the third,” Frost said. “We had an opportunity to win that game in regulation and penalty problems got to us a little bit.”

It’s not the first time that penalties have proven costly to the Gophers, and it’s something that they need to consider as they face Minnesota-Duluth for the WCHA Final Face-Off championship.

“If we’re stupid and take penalties that we shouldn’t, like we did (in Dulth) at times after the incident, then we’re probably not going to win the hockey game,” Frost said. “So it’s about getting out and two very good teams playing their best hockey, and I imagine no player is going to want to put their team in a bad spot in a championship game.”

The Buckeyes saw their season come to a heartbreaking end. Spooner and Paige Semenza credited senior captains LaRocque and Rachel Davis with inspiring the team to keep battling back in this game and throughout the season. With 20 players returning, Coach Jackie Barto expects good things ahead for her team.

UMD and Minnesota don’t have to wait long for their future, as face off for the championship game is scheduled for 12:07 P.M. at Ridder Arena.

“I think it’s exciting every time we play Duluth, and it’s just going to make it that much more exciting because we’re playing for a championship,” Francis said.
Bulldogs Drop Gophers, Take WCHA Title

Early Hole Proves Too Deep

3/7/10 – Minnesota-Duluth 3, Minnesota 2

Minnesota knew that they had to maintain their composure heading into Sunday’s WCHA championship game versus Minnesota-Duluth. That proved easier said than done, as the Gophers (25-8-5, 18-6-4 WCHA) took three penalties in the first two minutes, lost the momentum, and spent much of the opening period pinned in their own end and being outshot 13-5.

The Bulldogs (28-8-2, 20-6-2 WCHA) jumped to a 2-0 lead on an unassisted goal by Jessica Wong and an Emmanuelle Blais powerplay goal.

“We got in that penalty trouble, and that didn’t help, so we were playing the same group of kids there in some pretty tough situations four-on-threes, five-on-threes,” Coach Brad Frost said. “I looked up at the clock at least halfway through the period, I don’t think we had a shot yet, and we were on the PK for most of it.”

Coming off the emotional high of a double-overtime win the day before, Minnesota wanted to be the team that got off to a fast start.

“That’s a fine line that we kind of need to figure out, because we were pumped up, we were ready to go,” captain Brittany Francis said. “The first period, I guess we took it a little too far.”

Francis helped the Gophers climb back into the contest when she set up Sarah Erickson with a goal-mouth feed. Erickson scored both Minnesota goals on the day with Francis assisting both times.

“We knew pucks were going to go in if we get shots on net,” Erickson said. “That’s what we talked about coming into the game – shoot, shoot, shoot, and get your bodies to the net while you do. That’s going to be our main focus here coming into the rest of the playoffs is get the puck to the net.”

Erickson’s goals twice halved two-goal deficits, pulling the Gophers within 3-2 late in the second period, but they couldn’t find the net once more to gain a tie.

Audrey Cornoyer scored a pivotal goal to put UMD ahead 3-1 at 11:21 of the middle frame.

“We just let them gain the zone too easily, and she takes a nice, quick shot from the hash marks, it ramps off our D’s stick, and Noora [Räty] doesn’t have time to react,” Frost said.

UMD claimed their fourth WCHA tournament title.

“Well obviously, it was a great game,” Bulldog coach Shannon Miller said. “Two very good teams going head to head, and going end to end hockey. It was great hockey, it was a fast game, a physical game.”

Minnesota now looks ahead to the start of the NCAA tournament. They will host Clarkson at 4 P.M. on Saturday. The Golden Gophers and Golden Knights met in a series earlier this season, with Minnesota taking 4-0 and 2-0 decisions.

“I’m looking forward to next week,” Erickson said. “I’d like to obviously see us advance and win a national championship, and that’s all I’m worried about right now.”
West Rescues Gophers as They Defeat Knights in OT

3-Point Effort Including Gamewinner Lifts Minnesota

3/13/2010 - Minnesota 3, Clarkson 2 - OT

When playing in the NCAA tournament, it is win or go home. For the Gophers this season, it became a case of winning so they could stay at home. They accomplished that task, but not without some drama.

“This team has had a lot over their heads from the day that it was announced that we would be hosting the Frozen Four,” Coach Brad Frost said. “I think all of us as a staff and our players look at it as a real privilege and a real opportunity to be able to host it, and now to be able to play in it.”

Everything was going according to plan for Minnesota (26-8-5, 18-6-4 WCHA), the team making their 8th NCAA tournament appearance versus an opponent in Clarkson getting a first taste of the Dance. The Gophers led 2-0 as the third period neared its halfway point and looked to be on their way to a comfortable victory.

Not so fast. The Golden Knights (23-11-5, 14-5-3 ECAC) wanted to prolong the experience, storming back with two goals to force sudden death.

“It seems like we’re in the entertainment business and continue to give our ticketholders extra hockey,” Frost said.

For the fifth consecutive weekend, Minnesota played an overtime game.

 Unfortunately for Clarkson, it was the Knights’ season that ended abruptly when junior captain Emily West grabbed a turnover, marched in on goalie Lauren Dahm, and tucked the puck inside the post.
“I picked up the puck and saw more space than I wanted, and I just tried to take advantage of it,” West said. “I knew that I had been shooting all night low left, and thought maybe she would bite on that and just try and sneak it in.”

Brittany Francis, the other wing on Minnesota’s top line, forced the turnover with an aggressive forecheck.

Frost wasn’t surprised that it was West who sealed the deal.

“Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior,” he said.

The goal was West’s national-best tenth gamewinner.

Clarkson tied the contest at 2-2 at 18:16 of the third period, on a Juana Baribeau blast from center ice that found the top corner on Noora Räty. It was the kind of shot nobody expects to go in, especially against a goalie of Räty’s caliber.

“There’s nobody in the rink that felt worse than her,” Frost said of his star frosh.

“If there’s one player who doesn’t ever have to say ‘sorry’, it’s her.”

The Knight’s had gained the position to tie the game on one shot when Melissa Waldie converted a feed from Britney Selina after a Gopher defenseman got caught up ice. Carlee Eusepi also earned an assist.

“Brit Selina picked it up and I came off the bench,” Waldie said. “It was a 2-on-1 and she made a good play, a pass right on the tape.”

The outcome was suddenly in doubt, and both teams knew it.

“It got us going; everyone was excited,” Waldie said. “I think it gave us momentum.”

Francis opened the scoring on a first-period powerplay. She was carrying the puck toward the net, Courtney Olson of the Knights went down to block her pass, and deflected it in on the short side. West and Megan Bozek assisted.

“It was somewhat of a gift,” Francis said of the bounce, but she pointed to the hard work that set up the play.

Clarkson looked to have tied the game at 1-1 on their own power play in the second period, but after review, the goal was waved off.

“The referee was pretty adamant that it was pretty clear that it was kicked in,” Clarkson co-head coach Matt Desrosiers said.

Instead, West upped the lead to 2-0 when Sarah Erickson’s shot bounced to her off of Dahm’s pad, and West slid the rebound into the open goal. It was one of the few times the Gophers had a good look at the net.

“In November we just stood around and almost gave them too much respect,” co-head coach Shannon Desrosiers said. “This time, we talked about being aggressive, get in their face, get on them, play our style of game, and I think it threw them off a little bit.”

West was the player for which the Knights had no solution, particularly in OT.

“She definitely made a good play,” Shannon Desrosiers said. “She’s a solid player, probably one of the top in the country.”

Clarkson took some satisfaction from advancing to the tournament for the first time and giving a good battle.

“I think it is going to prepare us for next year,” Waldie said. “It got a lot of us ready. We’re losing a bunch of really great seniors, but I think we have a good group coming in. We’ll come in on a high note next year.”

But before thinking of next year, Clarkson can reflect on a wonderful season.

“It’s definitely a huge step for the program,” Matt Desrosiers said. “It’s come a long way in a pretty short time.”

Minnesota prepares for the program’s seventh trip to the Frozen Four and a semifinal date with the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth.

“There’s nothing better than an opportunity to play for a national championship in your own building,” West said.
Gophers Season Ends in National Semifinal

Bulldogs Bounce Minnesota for 4th Straight Time

3/19/10 – Minnesota-Duluth 3, Minnesota 2

The line between winning and losing can be very fine and hard to distinguish. Apparently when Minnesota faces Minnesota-Duluth, that divide is also very real, because the Gophers (26-9-5, 18-6-4 WCHA) keep winding up on the wrong side of the score.

All six head-to-head meetings between the two branches of the University of Minnesota became races to three goals, and the Bulldogs (30-8-2, 20-6-2 WCHA) won the last four of those races. UMD triumphed 3-2 Friday night in the national semifinal before 2,070 fans.
“I think getting the first goal was huge, but we started the game with a lot of confidence,” Coach Shannon Miller said.

The Bulldogs were able to get on the board first despite being out shot 13-7 in the opening period.

“It was a wraparound,” Laura Fridfinnson said. “[Emmanuelle Blais] shot it on net, and the goalie came out to play her, so I just took it behind the net and wrapped it around and got it in.”

Just as key was the goal that enabled UMD to take a 3-1 lead into the locker room for the second intermission. Blais scored off of a pass from Fridfinnson at 19:15, less than two minutes after Sarah Erickson got the Gophers on the scoreboard and halved Duluth’s 2-0 lead.

“It was a great pass,” Blais said. “Obviously, it was good for us to just come back right away after their goal, and especially just at the end of the second.”

Blais, who also scored UMD’s second goal, finished with two goals and an assist. Line mate Fridfinnson added a goal and two helpers.

The Gophers spent the entire final period trying to close the gap once more. They finally pulled their goalie in the final minute and got an extra-attacker goal from Emily West. West batted the puck out of midair and past Jennifer Harss with 55 seconds to go. Harss prevented any additional offense by Minnesota as she did most of the night in saving 27 shots, and the clock ran out on a 3-2 win for UMD.

“I thought [Harss] was remarkable tonight,” Miller said. “She’s gotten better and better through the course of the season.”

So have the Bulldogs.

“Their transition game is second to none,” Erickson said.

Those quick transition strikes often forced Minnesota to pay on the scoreboard for the smallest of miscues.

“There was no doubt in our mind we could win this game; we just didn’t,” Erickson said.

Minnesota Coach Brad Frost said that the hardest part of losing is that “the season comes to an abrupt ending.”

They bow out knowing they fought to the end.

“From a player’s point of view, I think they played amazing the whole game,” Blais said of her opponent. “It’s very hard; I’m absolutely exhausted right now.”

For the ‘Dogs, it continues against Cornell on Sunday at noon in Ridder Arena.

“We haven’t played against them, so it’s kind of exciting to have a new opponent,” Fridfinnson said.

Despite the Big Red’s brief NCAA history, Miller expects a battle on Sunday.

“Anybody that’s here is a great team,” she said. “I’m not worried about a letdown at all. It doesn’t matter who we play, we have to bring our absolute best game, and that’s the bottom line.”

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