With the NCAA tournament approaching and losses piling up, the Gophers women’s hockey team might want another chance to prove its mettle against Wisconsin or Ohio State, top teams that combined to take six of eight games from Minnesota over the past three weeks.
That time will come when the WCHA Final Faceoff starts March 6.
Until then, all the fourth-ranked Gophers can do to improve their postseason resume is beat the team in front of them. Right now, that’s last-place Bemidji State.
The WCHA rivals meet for the first and last time this season Friday and Saturday in Bemidji. The Beavers (2-12-2) are riding a five-game losing streak after 4-0 and 7-0 losses to top-ranked Wisconsin last weekend.
But the Gophers (9-7-1) are in no position to take any team lightly. They were swept at home last weekend by No. 2 Ohio State, and despite the fact that the games were close, they didn’t look great in those games.
“We know we’re going to have to be real good this weekend, and hopefully we can come away with some points,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said.
The Gophers can assure themselves of an NCAA tournament bid by winning the season-ending WCHA Final Faceoff at Ridder Arena but otherwise would be counting on the tournament selection committee to deem them worthy of one of four at-large bids.
Frost believes he has one of the best eight teams in the country, regardless, but victories in his team’s last two regular-season games will boost an already-good case.
Minnesota has played 17 games this season, and 12 have been against teams ranked in the Top 8 of the current USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls. They’re 4-7-1 in those games; all but three — two losses at Wisconsin and a 4-0 victory over Minnesota Duluth — were one-goal games.
With wins against their three ranked opponents, the Gophers showed they can beat the nation’s best teams. But they also learned they can’t just show up and get it done.
“We played well in stretches and really poorly in stretches, even in the same game,” Frost said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to put 60 minutes together. When we do that, I really believe we can beat anybody in the country. But saying that, we have to play well to have a shot.”
The Gophers will be without blue liner Gracie Ostertag, who had a goal and 11 assists last season but has been limited by injury to a handful of games this year, and junior forward Catie Skaja (3-3-6). Freshmen forwards Anne Cherkowski (1-5—6) and Addie Burton also will be unavailable.
“The hope is that we can get them back for playoffs knowing that we have a weekend off before the conference tournament,” Frost said. “There’s still a lot of unknowns there, but there’s no doubt that playing without four players in our lineup has made things a little more difficult. But we’re hopeful that we can get a couple of them back.”
Clair DeGeorge, a senior from Anchorage, Alaska, who played at Shattuck St Mary’s, leads the Beavers in scoring with four goals and nine points but hasn’t found the back of the net since a 2-2 tie Jan. 16 at St. Cloud State. Bemidji is averaging 1.5 goals a game.
Gophers senior Lauren Bench (8-5, 2.26 goals-against average, .924 save percentage), a former Beaver, and sophomore Makayla Pahl (1-2-1, 1.79 GAA, .939) are expected to split the games in goal.