Senior Chelsey Jones has every intention to make this year count. That’s why she and her second-ranked Minnesota women’s hockey teammates cannot afford to overlook any opponent, even if history says otherwise.
The Gophers (17-3-4 overall, 13-2-3-3 WCHA) will put their all-time undefeated record against North Dakota (5-13-4, 4-12-2-0) on the line at Ridder Arena this weekend.
“It’s really good to see that even though it might be our last year, we’re definitely using all of the time we have to the best of our abilities,” Jones said.
The Gophers are certainly spending as much time as possible on the ice. During winter break, the women played an exhibition game against team USA and played overtime twice in an exciting weekend in Bemidji.
After taking a 4-4 tie into the final period against the best the United States has to offer, the Gophers ultimately fell 8-5 last Tuesday .
Despite the short week and tough competition from Team USA, the Gophers came away with four points against Bemidji State, but needed two extra periods and two shootout victories to do it.
“Sometimes it’s easy to take a game off or a period off in the second half because it does getting tiring,” Jones said. “But we have to push through and be at our peak.”
Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said he doesn’t want his team to peak now and hopes their best hockey is ahead of them. A bright future could help the Gophers hold on to their seven-point lead over second place Minnesota-Duluth in conference standings .
They will head to Duluth to face their rival Bulldogs on Feb. 5 and Feb. 6 in the third-to-last weekend of the season, but Frost is not overlooking any opponent.
“There’s 20 points still available, so we’re not out of the woods by any means,” Frost said. “We want to make sure that we continue to get better here throughout the second half so we are playing our best in March.”
Not looking past North Dakota this weekend may be wise, as the Sioux have proven they can play the spoiler.
On the night the Badgers raised their 2009 NCAA championship banner at the Kohl Cente r in October, North Dakota opened the regular season with a shocker, knocking off Wisconsin 2-0. The Sioux also beat No. 6 Wisconsin 3-1 Jan. 8 at home.
“As we saw this past weekend, any team in our league can bite you,” Frost said. “So you better be at your best.”
The last time they met, the Gophers were coming off a disappointing weekend at Harvard where they failed to score a goal and were looking to head into winter break on a high note.
The Gophers swept North Dakota by a combined score of 8-1, with Megan Bozek receiving WCHA rookie of the week honors for her performance.
“Recently, she’s a stud on the ice,” senior Alexandra Zebro said. “Her confidence has been progressively increasing; it was never even small in the beginning.”
But she said the thin line between confidence and overconfidence is one the Gophers must now walk down the last 10 games of the season.
“I think the best thing to keep the team going at a high level for the rest of the season is just team camaraderie,” Zebro said. “When we go out on the ice, we don’t see a name on the back of the jersey, we see one team. We see an M.”
The Gophers will try to remain undefeated at home, with Friday’s game set for 7:00 and the Saturday matinee slated for 4:00.
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