UMD goalie Maddie Rooney

The top-ranked Gophers women’s hockey team reaches the midway point of the WCHA season this weekend with its sixth conference series of 2019-20, a trip to No. 10 Minnesota Duluth. For coach Brad Frost’s Gophers, the first half of WCHA play has gone about as well as could be expected.

“Overall, I’m really excited about our team and our players,’’ Frost said.

He has plenty of reasons to feel that way. The Gophers sport a 12-1-1 overall record and an 8-1-1-1 mark in WCHA play. Their only blemishes are a 4-3 loss at No. 7 Ohio State and a 2-2 tie against defending national champion Wisconsin at Ridder Arena. But even that tie felt like a triumph for the Gophers because Amy Potomak’s dazzling, between-the-legs shootout goal secured the extra point in the WCHA standings against Minnesota’s bitter rival. The Gophers took five of a possible six points against the Badgers, who entered the series with the nation's No. 1 ranking.

The Gophers face a different challenge on Friday and Saturday (both games are at 3 p.m.) against a Minnesota Duluth team with plenty of star power. The Bulldogs (7-4-1, 4-3-1 WCHA) feature senior goalie Maddie Rooney, who backstopped the United States to the gold medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics, and sophomore forward Gabbie Hughes, whose nine goals and 16 points pace UMD.

Rooney has seven games of 40 or more saves against the Gophers, while Hughes has an active six-game goal streak against Minnesota.

“Their goaltender has a gold medal around her neck and is a tough goaltender to beat,’’ Frost said of Rooney, who has a 1.65 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. “And they have a couple of difference-makers up front. It should be a fun weekend and a great challenge.’’

The Bulldogs have received supplementary scoring from senior forward Sydney Brodt (four goals, eight assists) and junior defenseman Ashton Bell (3-9-12). UMD is coming off a series at Ohio State in which it lost 3-1 in the opener before earning a 1-1 tie in the finale before the Buckeyes secured the extra conference standings point by winning the shootout.

Frost expects that a charged-up Bulldogs team will await the Gophers at AMSOIL Arena.

“We feel that regardless of what our team is ranked that everybody wants to beat us,’’ he said. “… It’s always a great challenge. Everybody wants to beat the Gophers.’’

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