Catching fire at the right time is often a one-way ticket to postseason success, and Minnesota is on a hot streak heading into the NCAA tournament.
The Gophers are undefeated in postseason play, have shut out their last three opponents and are coming off their first conference-tournament title since 2005.
Senior captain Sarah Erickson said she thinks the team is peaking at the appropriate time.
“We’re excited. We aren’t satisfied yet,” she said. “We had our enjoyment of [Saturday’s championship victory], and now we’re done with it. We’re ready to get the NCAA on the roll.”
Minnesota, the No. 2 seed, will host a familiar foe — No. 7 seed North Dakota. The two WCHA teams have waltzed five times this season, most recently in last weekend’s WCHA Final Face-Off, where the Gophers dismantled UND 6-0.
Last year, Minnesota traveled to Boston College for its first-round matchup and was promptly sent packing after losing 4-1.
But this year, the Gophers will play their first-round opponent at Ridder Arena. Head coach Brad Frost said playing at home provides a degree of comfort as the team eases into the tournament.
“It was a goal of ours at the beginning of the year to make sure we did enough during the regular season to make sure that we were hosting,” he said.
“Now we’re at the point where the time has come. We’re hosting an NCAA game, and we want to make sure we take care of business.”
Minnesota certainly took care of business last time it played UND. The Gophers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and put the game out of reach by scoring three goals in the second period. Goaltender Noora Räty was a brick wall and saved all 27 shots she saw.
However, Frost said he expects North Dakota to be at its best this weekend, being that it’s a do-or-die situation.
“I’m sure they weren’t happy with how they played last weekend,” he said. “They’ve got just as good a chance as we do to win and advance.”
Defenseman Megan Bozek said she was somewhat disappointed that Minnesota is matched up with a league opponent in the first round.
But if the Gophers come out on top this weekend, they’ll see the winner of Cornell and Boston University in the Frozen Four –– both unfamiliar opponents.
To do that, Frost said the team will need to stick with the formula that has gotten Minnesota this far — strong defense and goaltending.
Both will be necessary to shut down UND’s explosive offense, led by twin sisters Jocelyne Lamoureux and Monique Lamoureux-Kolls. The forwards are first and fifth nationally in points, respectively, but Bozek said she isn’t too concerned.
“We have one of the best [defensive] cores in the country,” Bozek said. “I think everybody would agree with that. If we do our job … and let the forwards take care of the offensive stuff, I think we’ll be fine.”
The stats indicate Minnesota does indeed have the best defense in the country. The Gophers allow 1.32 goals per game — top in the nation.
Pair that with an offense that scores an average of 4.45 goals, and you have the best team in the nation, said Erickson.
After months atop the national rankings, the Gophers will finally have the chance to prove they are No. 1 in the next two weeks.
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