If a puck happens to get past Skylar Vetter — even during practice — the sophomore goalie for the Gophers women's hockey team quickly sweeps the evidence from the cage, disposing of it to the nearest corner, seemingly to make sure no others follow.

"She doesn't like any pucks in her net,'' Gophers coach Brad Frost said. "She doesn't like giving 'em up. She battles and competes on every single puck in practice.''

It's not only in practice.

Vetter, a sophomore from Lakeville, is the backbone of a deep and talented Gophers team that aspires to advance to its first NCAA Frozen Four since 2019 and win its first national championship since 2016.

“She's got that swagger, that 'it' factor that that you really need in a goaltender when you're a top team in the country.”
U coach Brad Frost

Friday and Saturday at Ridder Arena, she and her teammates will gauge themselves against defending national champion Ohio State in a series that will help determine the WCHA titlist.

"I've been saying it for a while: I feel like it's kind of like playoffs before playoffs,'' said Vetter, whose third-ranked Gophers face the top-ranked Buckeyes amid a stretch that started with a sweep of Minnesota Duluth and concludes with a home set against Wisconsin. "It's a nice, little test to have.''

Vetter on Tuesday was named the WCHA Goaltender of the Month for the third time this season. On Thursday, the Hockey Commissioners Association named her a top-10 finalist for national goaltender of the year.

She went 7-0 with a 1.20 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in January, running her season stats to 19-3-2 with a 1.70 GAA and .927 save percentage.

The Gophers won 3-1 and 4-3 on Friday and Saturday at UMD, the national runner-up last year and a team that ended Minnesota's 2021-22 season in an NCAA regional final. With a fourth win in as many contests against the Bulldogs this season, Vetter has helped the Gophers secure 18 of 24 points so far against the trio of UMD, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

"She's got that swagger, that 'it' factor that that you really need in a goaltender when you're a top team in the country,'' Frost said.

The Gophers will need Vetter's swagger again against Ohio State, which trails first-place Minnesota by only two points in the WCHA regular-season race. The Gophers' edge is due in large part to Vetter's performance during the teams' first series on Oct. 28-29 in Columbus. In the opener, she made a career-high 43 saves in Minnesota 4-3 victory. The next day, she stopped 27 of 31 shots in a 4-4 tie.

"We were so close to getting that sweep,'' said Vetter, whose team held a 3-1 third-period lead in the finale. "We know that we can play our best hockey this weekend.''

The Gophers have won 12 consecutive games, including 11 in a row with Vetter in net. Her streak followed a rare clunker this season when she gave up four first-period goals in a 4-3 loss to Yale on Nov. 26 in the final of the Henderson (Nev.) Collegiate Hockey Showcase.

"It was hard for me to go through that,'' Vetter said. "… When we got back to practice, I was like, 'OK, it's over. From here on out, I'm just going to work harder.' ''

That attitude impresses Frost, who sees qualities in Vetter that he saw in Gophers national title-winning goalies Noora Raty and Amanda Leveille.

"They believed that they were elite goalies, and they were just never fazed,'' Frost said. "That's what Skylar has.''

Vetter would love to join that elite company, and she'll have that chance down the stretch.

"We are just so excited to prove to everyone that we're still here, we're still one of the best programs in the country,'' she said. "We're excited to hang some banners this year.''