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WOMEN'S HOCKEY: Undefeated No. 1 Gophers present toughest challenge yet for BSU

BEMIDJI – For a team that’s struggled to score this season, facing off against No. 1 Minnesota and hoping to come away with some points seems like a Herculean task.

Bemidji State finds itself in just such a predicament this weekend. The Beavers (3-11-2, 2-9-1 WCHA) host the Gophers, the nation’s top team and the defending national champions, at the Sanford Center in the final series 2012.

“For a team that’s not scoring well it’s really a challenge for us,” BSU head coach Steve Sertich said.

The Gophers have scored 104 goals this season – by far the most in the country – and have allowed only 11, with Noora Raty backstopping seven shutouts.

Amanda Kessel and Hannah Brandt have notched a combined 93 points for Minnesota, while seven other Gophers have double digit points.

“They’re great top to bottom,” Sertich said. “They probably have the best goalie in the country right now; have two of the top forwards in the country with Kessel and Brandt, and a great supporting cast. They’re a great hockey team; we’ll have to play a perfect game to beat them.”

Senior defenseman Erika Wheelhouse said the Gophers might be the best team she’s ever seen.

“They’re off to a great start,” she said, referring to the 18-0-0 record. “A perfect start, you could say. So we’re kind of pumped up to play a No. 1 team.

“They can bury the puck. They’re fast, lot of skill, lot of individuals who can do a lot of amazing things with the puck. So we have to make sure we focus on winning our one-on-one battles out there.”

Last weekend, the Beavers were swept by Minnesota-Duluth at the Sanford Center. In one game, BSU built up a 2-0 lead only to see the Bulldogs score four unanswered goals in win 4-2. It’s the third time the Beavers have squandered a two-goal lead. BSU outshot UMD 41-27 in that game.

“We’re just disappointed we weren’t able to get some points,” Sertich said. “I thought we did some things pretty well. I think anytime you can outshoot a team like UMD and go toe-to-toe with them it’s pretty good. But you have to find a way to beat them, too. We’ve let some leads slip away. We have to find a way to protect leads.”

If the Beavers can get a lead against Minnesota this weekend, it will be a tough task, as the Gophers have trailed for a total of 39 seconds this season. But Sertich said flooding the net and creating traffic in front of Raty will be the key.

“We’d like to think we’d get one on the power play,” Sertich said. “We got two last weekend and had to have a bunch of shots. You’ve got to get traffic in front of Raty, too. If she sees the puck she’ll save it. So we’ll need traffic.”

The Beavers did beat the Gophers at the Sanford Center last season – a 2-1 win that featured goals from Rachel Kelly and Sadie Lundquist.

“I thought we just contested every puck,” Sertich said of that game. “We were pesky and resilient. We’re not as skilled as they are this year so we have to make up with that with hard work.try to keep it close going into the third and everything can happen.”

For Wheelhouse and the rest of the Beaver players, topping the Gophers would be a sweet way to end December – especially since BSU has yet to win a game at the Sanford Center.

“We think about that a lot,” Wheelhouse said. “We’d like to get a win this season, so why not against the Gophers? We’ve always had success here at Sanford, but have kinda been snakebitten here lately. So it will be nice to end the semester with some good competition and maybe get an upset.

NOTE: The last time the Beavers defeated a No. 1 team, it happened at the Sanford Center.

BSU defeated No. 1 Mercyhurst 5-3 on Oct. 16, 2010.

Alana McElhinney stopped a career-high 59 shots to earn the win.

“We talked about how fun that was,” Sertich said. “But like I said, a lot of things will have to happen on the positive side for us to knock off the Gophers. They have great speed and great skill. They’ll have the puck more than we will so we’ll have to be great defensively so we’ll have to be great at defending our net.”

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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