Thursday: CSU vs. CU, 8:30 p.m.
Friday: Lindenwood vs. CU, 3:15 p.m.
Lindenwood vs. CSU, 9 p.m.
Minnesota vs. CU, 10:55 p.m.
Saturday, Sunday: Championship games
*All games will be played at the CU Ice Arena
There comes a point in every team's season when the outcome of the next few games may determine the course of the rest of the season. For the University of Colorado women's hockey team, that point is this weekend.
On Thursday night, the Buffs will lace up their skates for the opening game of the annual CU Invitational, a tournament that will likely impact their chances of qualifying for American Collegiate Hockey Association Nationals in March.
Only the top eight teams in the ACHA qualify for nationals, and with an 11-9-2 record and national ranking bouncing between eighth and 13th since November, winning this tournament will be crucial. In-state rival Colorado State will be first up for the Buffs.
After crushing the Rams in their two previous meetings this season, including an 8-0 pounding in Boulder back in October, prospects of a win are high, provided a couple of things happen, according to defenseman Ashley Abrams.
"We need to capitalize on power plays," she said. "Our power plays haven't been that great this season."
While the intrastate rivalries between most of the schools' major sports teams have long histories, the competition between the women's hockey teams is relatively new because CSU (1-5) is a first-year team. Although the Buffs have had several more years to gel as a team, they aren't taking the Rams for granted.
"They're a first-year team, but they've still got a lot of talent," said goaltender Ashleigh Lang. "We have to not be too confident in ourselves. If we come out and play our game and make good passes, we'll be in good shape."
CSU is only one of four teams scheduled to play in the tournament this weekend. The University of Minnesota (3-5) and Lindenwood University (24-0-0-1) will also compete. The Buffs expect a major challenge from Lindenwood, the No. 1 ranked team in the ACHA.
"Our main goal this weekend is to have a really good game against Lindenwood," said Head Coach Kristen Van Slyke. "They won nationals last year, so it's a lofty goal."
CU dropped both games against Lindenwood in November by scores of 11-1 and 4-2. Van Slyke said that even though the Buffs lost both games, their ability to hang with Lindenwood in the second game would boost the team's confidence this time around.
Lang, a senior from Hamilton, Ontario, will make her first appearance in goal this season after missing the first semester with a strained quad muscle. Freshmen Alexandra Brower and Emily Engle shared time in goal the first half of the season.
The tournament will follow a round-robin format, with each team playing every other team once. The first and fourth seeds and second and third seeds will then play, with the winners advancing to the championship game.