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Rinkytown blog: Bisons, Whitecaps face Gophers in women's exhibition games

A Canadian women's team and a professional women's team will both face the Minnesota Gophers before their regular season begins on Oct. 7. Also, two more former Gophers join the WCHA coaching ranks.

SCSU vs Minnesota
Minnesota Gophers star forward Taylor Heise carried the puck while St. Cloud State Huskies defender Kenzie Wylie gave chase during a game at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis from the 2021-22 season.
Bjorn Franke / University of Minnesota Athletics

MINNEAPOLIS – When Canadian college men’s hockey teams come to visit the U.S., there is generally more than just the flag they happen to salute to differentiate them from their American counterparts. Men’s college rosters in Canada are often populated by players in their mid- to late-20s, many of whom have played major junior hockey (which negates their NCAA eligibility) and have returned to college later in life to get an education after realizing that a lengthy pro hockey career is not in their future.

By contrast, the University of Manitoba team that will come down from Winnipeg and visit the Minnesota Gophers for a Sept. 24 exhibition game is much more of what one would expect from a college squad, age-wise.

“It’s much more traditional,” said Gophers coach Brad Frost. “Their student-athletes will mostly be the same age as our players, many of them from Manitoba, and it will be a great game.”

To be sure, the Bisons roster is filled with players from Winnipeg or elsewhere in the province. They actually began playing games in August, via a European tour where they lost twice to the French national team, but beat the Dutch national team.

Before the Gophers begin their conference schedule on Oct. 7-8 when Bemidji State comes to Minneapolis, they also get an exhibition crack at some former Gophers, hosting the Minnesota Whitecaps on Sept. 30. It will be the Gophers’ first meeting with the Whitecaps, a professional women’s team that plays its home games in St. Paul, since 2019.

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“We always love playing them, especially with all of our alums on their roster and alums coaching them,” Frost said.

Former Gopher Rhonda (Curtin) Engelhardt is the Whitecaps head coach. One of the newest members of the Whitecaps is former Ohio State star Liz Schepers, who signed a pro contract after captaining the Buckeyes’ NCAA title team in March. It will be her first return to Ridder Arena since Ohio State’s come-from-behind overtime win over the Gophers in the 2022 WCHA Frozen Faceoff title game.

JRW_6793.jpg
Ohio State coach Nadine Muzerall worked to keep her team calm and focused on Wisconsin during the Buckeyes' 2-1 win over the Badgers in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Faceoff at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis on Saturday, March 5, 2022.
Justin Wolford / WCHA

Two more branches on the Gophers coaching tree

That aforementioned NCAA title won by Ohio State last spring was likely a bittersweet moment for some Gophers fans. The sting of seeing a conference rival hoist the game’s most coveted trophy was perhaps lessened just a bit knowing former Gopher star Nadine Muzerall was behind the Buckeyes’ bench.

St. Thomas has a former Gophers coach (Joel Johnson) and player (Bethany Brausen) running its program, and another former Gophers star (Natalie Darwitz) is Frost’s top assistant in Dinkytown. And as coaching staffs continue to take shape with the women’s college hockey season now just days away, you can add two more Gophers to the list of those making a post-college living in coaching.

Kelsey Cline, who is a former standout player and coach at Bloomington Jefferson, has been named an assistant coach on Muzerall’s Ohio State staff for the coming season, after serving as the Buckeyes’ director of hockey operations last winter. She played four years on defense for the Gophers and won a pair of national titles.

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Another former Gophers defender, Mira Jalosuo, has been named an assistant coach on Brian Idalski’s first St. Cloud State staff for the coming season. Originally from Finland, Jalosuo also won a pair of NCAA titles in maroon and gold, and skated for her native country in the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. She joins the Huskies after serving as the head coach at Stillwater High School the past three winters.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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