UND women's hockey team faces unbeaten Gophers today in NCAA tournament
GRAND FORKS -- Ashley Furia says there's no such thing as a perfect game.
But the University of North Dakota women's hockey team will attempt to play as close to one as possible in order to end the University of Minnesota's perfect season today.
On the line: a trip to the Frozen Four.
The Gophers are 38-0. They've won 46 straight games. They haven't given up a goal in exactly a month. They have the nation's best offense, best defense and best goaltender, and they carry the banner as the defending national champions.
They've already beaten UND five times this season, including a 2-0 victory in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship game a week ago.
But the UND players say they can't wait for today's NCAA quarterfinal game at 4 p.m. CST in Minnesota's home of Ridder Arena.
"We'll play them 100 times, if that's what it takes," UND coach Brian Idalski said. "It should be a good game. They are a great team. They're playing well. They're shooting for perfection. So, they have a lot to play for."
UND is the last team to beat the Gophers last February in Ridder Arena, and it is responsible for nine of the 29 goals that Minnesota has allowed this season.
Since falling behind Bemidji State 2-1 on Feb. 16, Minnesota has outscored its opponents 27-0 and it carries a shutout streak of 397 minutes, 8 seconds to today's NCAA quarterfinal game.
UND (26-11-1), which boasts the nation's second-leading scorer in Jocelyne Lamoureux (35 goals, 81 points in 38 games) and the nation's top defenseman scorer in Monique Lamoureux (26 goals, 65 points in 38 games), will try to break through.
"We have to get pucks to the net and be aggressive," Idalski said. "The more times we can get pucks in there, the more opportunity there is for a bounce or a chance for something to go wrong (for Minnesota). I really felt we had a fair amount of rebound opportunities (last week), we just didn't finish our open looks. It won't be so much quality, we're going to throw a lot of quantity at the net and see what happens."
Senior Ashley Furia said: "We need to go play hard and stick to our game plan. We need to crash the net. We need to get two people there and throw everything we can there."
UND has already set a program record for wins in a season and for the highest-ever finish in the WCHA standings (tied for second). This is the second straight NCAA tournament appearance. UND lost to the Gophers in the quarterfinals last season. "The more you're in big games and competitive games, there becomes a comfort level where you're not making it more than it is," Idalski said. "It's just another game and you should be relaxed, having fun and competing."
Last season, UND alternated between goalies Stephanie Ney and Jorid Dagfinrud all the way through the NCAA tournament game. One difference this year is that UND knows who will play in net - freshman Shelby Amsley-Benzie. Amsley-Benzie has started every game since mid-January, only allowing more than two goals one time, while the team has played improved defense in front of her.
"We keep getting better," Idalski said. "I still think we have a little bit more to go, to be honest with you. There's another level for us to achieve. We have to be encouraged by how we've gelled. We're playing really well."
And UND will probably need to find that next level in order to reach the Frozen Four.
"We're all really pumped about it," Furia said. "Yeah, they've beaten us so far this year, but we're ready to go."