The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 1, 2013

MSU women appear improved in always-tough WCHA


The Mankato Free Press

---- — With all of the talk this summer about the changes to college hockey’s conferences and the new-look Western Collegiate Hockey Association that Minnesota State will be playing in, it’s easy to forget that things have stayed exactly the same on the women’s side of the WCHA.

Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State haven’t gone anywhere in that league, meaning it’s still the cream of the sport. WCHA teams have won every national title since the NCAA officially made it a championship in 2000-01.

The WCHA hasn’t been an easy place for Minnesota State. The Mavericks have struggled to pull themselves out of the bottom half of the league for most of their history.

They watched, for instance, as a team they routinely stayed ahead of, North Dakota, leapfrogged them four years ago after a couple of transfers fell into its lap. Fresh off a national title with Minnesota, twin sisters and Grand Forks, N.D., natives Jocelyne and Moniques Lamoureux, two of the best players in the sport, decided to move home for hockey. Sure, they had to sit out a season, but all they did was play for the U.S. Olympic Team that year.

In what other college sport does that happen?

So the Mavericks have plugged away, trying to stay ahead of their peers St. Cloud State and Bemidji State, and trying to catch up to Ohio State and Duluth, the latter of which came back to the pack a bit last year. North Dakota may do the same, now that the twins have graduated. Minnesota and Wisconsin are in a different stratosphere. The Gophers, who won the last two national titles, were unbeaten and untied last year and will open this season trying to extend a 49-game winning streak.

With a veteran roster, perhaps this is the year MSU finally makes a move.

On Friday night, Minnesota State opened its season with an impressive 4-2 nonconference win over seventh-ranked Mercyhurst, a team that played in the Frozen Four last winter. The next day, MSU lost to the Lakers, falling behind 3-0 before scoring twice in the third period to make it a close game.

It was not a fluky split. Senior goaltender Danielle Butters was excellent, but she didn’t have to do it all, didn’t have to steal a game. Five different players scored goals in the series. Junior forward Kathleen Rogan scored twice.

“That’s what the rest of the year is going to be like,” Means said after Saturday’s game. “There are no easy opponents; games are very tight in the WCHA. So it’s a great first weekend to realize what the intensity’s going to be like”

The Mavericks played an exhibition game against the University of British Columbia on Monday night and will get right into the WCHA meat grinder on Friday when they go to Madison to take on Wisconsin.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.