BY SAM GAZZOLA | The Statesman SERIES PREVIEW: UMD (4-8-0, 2-6-0 WCHA) at North Dakota (7-3-2, 4-3-2 WCHA), 7 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Listen/Watch: go to http://umdbulldogs.com/news/2015/11/18/WHOCKEY_1118151836.aspx?path=whockey to see video and radio options for following along with this weekend’s games.
The UMD women’s hockey team heads to North Dakota to take on the No. 7 ranked—and freshly nicknamed—Fighting Hawks this weekend. This is a pivotal series for the Bulldogs. With only two conference wins so far, the Bulldogs (No. 7 in the WCHA standings) need to start making up ground in the conference in order to begin to set up a second-half push.
But at this point, Crowell sees the experience her young team is getting by playing the top teams in the country as far more important than watching the standings.
“We have a young team (and) some kids that haven’t played as much, so as the season goes on, they’re going to get better and better. I haven’t focused too much on league points” head coach Maura Crowell said.
“We’ve played to the level of competition, at times we’ve controlled the play,” Crowell said.
And they've had plenty of opportunities to do that: all but one of the teams they’ve played this season are ranked in the top ten of the USCHO Poll. The song remains the same with the No. 4 ranked North Dakota Fighting Hawks. But surprisingly enough, the Fighting Hawks haven’t been great at home this year. While they are undefeated on the road this season (5-0-2), they have a losing record at Ralph Engelstad Arena (2-3).
Despite this oddity, the Fighting Hawks will still be a tough test for the Bulldogs.
“They’re very good, they have a very good first line,” Crowell said. “(Halli) Krzyzaniak is a tremendous defenseman. I think they play a little more physical than Wisconsin does, they’ll certainly let you know they’re there. We’re going to have to stay out of the box, I think that’s North Dakota’s style, to drag you into that game.”
After giving up several power play goals—and a number of power play opportunities—to Wisconsin last weekend, Crowell has been pushing discipline and has worked on the penalty kill in preparation for the road trip.
“We had a lot of power play goals scored on us last weekend, staying out of the box is key. We just need to get into some shooting lanes when they’re on the puck and it’s up high,” Crowell said. "It sounds easy, but we focused (this week) on stick and body positioning (on defense), and putting the right pressure on the puck carriers.”
Crowell thinks that the Bulldogs aren’t far from being a top tier team, and hopes that the improvements on the penalty kill will help deliver results of their strong play so far.
“Our confidence is high but at some point we have to start winning those (close) games. I think we are playing well and it would be great for them to be rewarded for that,” Crowell said.
After both Maddie Rooney and Kayla Black got time in the crease against Wisconsin, Crowell plans to continue the goaltender rotation.
“They always give us a chance to win. I think we’re better when we have two top goalies battling it out,” Crowell said.