The UND women’s hockey team is off to Bemidji, Minn., this weekend to take part in the WCHA Final Face-Off to face rival Wisconsin in the fifth meeting this year between the two teams.
Wisconsin took the season series advantage, 2-1-1, including an overtime win over North Dakota earlier in the year. The game will be the first of two semifinals to take place with the game starting at 4:07 p.m. Friday at Bemidji’s Sanford Center.
Wisconsin is another tough rival for North Dakota as it saw against Bemidji State last weekend, but UND makes its opponent work for every chance.
“That’s probably what I admire most about them is they’ve been patient, and they wait for opportunities and they make you pay, but they’re definitely not going to open up something or make silly decisions,” UND coach Brian Idalski said. “You’re going to have to earn everything you get defensively off them. They’re well-coached and they’re power play is doing really well, so special teams is going to be a point of emphasis.”
The team that wins the Final Face-Off will get the WCHA’s automatic bid into the upcoming NCAA tournament. The four teams competing in the tournament are UND, Wisconsin, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota.
This tournament is one step before the NCAA tournament and is compared to a large scale by many teams that compete.
“It’s our mini championship — in fact, we’re not shy about that.” Idalski said.
One thing UND continues to focus on and has throughout the season is its ability to take shots when the opportunity arises.
“We need to be poised with the puck and not just throw it.” Idalski said. “Wait for something, possess it, protect it — there’s no harm in that. There should be no sense of panic for us to just throw the puck around. So when we beat (Wisconsin) 4-1, we had a couple dirty, gritty goals. It’s important that, mentality wise, we’re really strong on our sticks and we’re hungry for second chance opportunities.”
UND had maintained a goalie rotation throughout the year, but Shelby Amsley-Benzie was the only starter in the first round against Bemidji.
“To be honest, a lot of that came out of Shelby just flat out earning some playing time,” Idalski said. “Lexie earned that right having practiced extremely well and looking sharp and took advantage of her opportunities more than we thought she would as a freshman. Experience is only good if you’ve learned on it, you’ve built on it and you’ve become better.”
UND’s position in the national rankings is not necessarily what it expected, but it is ready to focus on the task at hand.
“We don’t feel like we’re the ninth or 10th place team, but, at the same time, we kind of put ourselves in that situation,” Idalski said. “(We were) struggling down the stretch, not closing games and not taking care of business. We know what the rankings are. We don’t think that’s a fair representation and we can get on our mathematical rant if we want to, but it is what it is. We need to win more games.
We’re just looking to play some good hockey here and win a couple hockey games. That’s our focus. That other stuff is out of our control.”
Mariah Holland is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]