Heading into the final weekend of the 2012-13 NCAA women’s hockey season, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have the opportunity to be the first team to have an undefeated regular season.
A road series versus the St. Cloud State Huskies is the final step toward making their dream season a reality. The National Hockey & Event Center will set the backdrop for this brush with history.
With a winning streak that goes back to Feb. 18, 2012, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have won an NCAA record 40 consecutive games. In addition, the Gophers have won 23 consecutive games on the road.
The series is equally important for St. Cloud, as they are looking to avoid last place. They currently sit second to last in the WCHA standings with a record of 9-20-3.
Should they be swept and finish in last place, their first round opponent in the WCHA Playoffs would be the Golden Gophers. During the 2012 WCHA playoffs, the Huskies were swept by the Gophers and are aiming to avoid another first round postseason encounter.
Their last series with the Gophers (on Oct. 5-6) resulted in two losses by a combined score of 11-1. Maryanne Menefee led all skaters with three goals, while Hannah Brandt and Amanda Kessel led all skaters with five points each.
Playing for pride, the host St. Cloud State Huskies faces insurmountable odds.
In looking to spoil the Golden Gophers magical season, the program has a lifetime record of 3-53-2. The last time the Huskies prevailed in a contest against them was on Feb. 13, 2010.
With Feb. 23 being senior night for the Huskies, the squad has an extra incentive to attempt the monumental upset. The honored seniors include: Katie Allen, Haylea Schmid, Kylie Lane, Lisa Martinson, Alex Nelson, Callie Dahl, Ellie Sitek, and Anna Donlan.
As the Gophers' most recent contest found them going into overtime against last place Bemidji State, the Huskies have reason to believe a win is possible. The key for the Huskies is to reduce the likeliness of penalties. The Gophers NCAA best power play will take full advantage against St. Cloud.
With 28 points on the power play, Kessel can singlehandedly make a team suffer for taking a costly penalty. As super rookie Brandt leads the team with nine power play goals, she is also capable of deflating the opposition’s hopes.
However, St. Cloud goaltender Julie Friend enters the game with great momentum.
Having earned a shutout in her most recent appearance (a 2-0 win vs. MSU Mankato on Feb. 16), the 2012 WCHA All-Rookie selection will be very confident.
Entering the game as WCHA Defensive Player of the Week, Huskies defender Audrey Hanmer earned the first two-goal game of her career (also on Feb. 16). She leads the Huskies with 113 shots and will be counted upon to provide pressure on Noora Raty.
Another intriguing factor heading into the series is the Gophers' connection that Huskies rookie Hanna Brodt brings to the game. Her cousin is Winny Brodt-Brown, a former defender with the Gophers. Brodt-Brown was also the first winner of the Ms. Hockey Award, and a 2010 Clarkson Cup champion.
Loyalties will certainly be divided in deciding who to root for. In addition, Brodt’s aunt was the first women’s coach in St. Cloud history.
There are many personal milestones that the Gophers are aiming for. Having already eclipsed the NCAA record for most career wins, Raty needs two shutouts to surpass Jessie Vetter’s career record of 39. which was established in 2009. Kessel is seven goals away from the prestigious 50-goal plateau. She also needs seven points to top the century mark, which has only been reached three other times in NCAA history.
Of note, Kessel has more goals and assists than the St. Cloud leading scorer has points.
Molli Mott, from Colorado Springs, leads the Huskies with 22 points. Kessel’s 93 points are more than the top four scorers on St. Cloud combined (Mott, Schmid, Nelson, Hanmer have 81 points combined).
Whether the Gophers win or lose, it will signify a historic event in NCAA women’s hockey.
On paper, the Gophers should be able to sweep the Huskies. During the regular season, the Huskies have been outscored this season by a 99-56 overall mark.
Upsets tend to occur when the favored team is distracted by a high pressure situation, and the possibility of an undefeated season will be a trying test for the Gophers.