|Shedding Some Baggage|
Erica McKenzie and Rachael Drazan Lead Gophers in 5-3 Win Over Northeastern
Senior forward Erica McKenzie and junior defenseman Rachael Drazan
were limited in different ways last season.
McKenzie suffered a knee injury that forced her to miss seven games. When she returned to the lineup in the season's second half, the injury required her to wear a brace to protect her knee.
“This was actually the first time that I felt 100% healthy in a Gopher uniform in the last year, coming off my knee injury," McKenzie said. “It feels awesome being out there, not having to worry about wearing a knee brace. I’m pretty fortunate.”
McKenzie's return to health enabled her to connect for a goal in each period. She scored a key goal to put Minnesota up 3-1 at the end of the 1st period.
She combined with Drazan for the team's second power play goal of the night to up the lead to three (pictured at left.)
In the final session, she sniped one home from the slot, completing her hat trick and negating a pair of late goals by the Huskies.
A WCHA rule prevented Drazan, a transfer from Minnesota-Duluth, from competing in any games last year. Instead, she endured a red-shirt season with all of the work of practice without the reward of playing in games.
Quickly making up for lost time, Drazan got Minnesota's season off to a fast start, firing home a power play goal less than four minutes into her first game as a Gopher.
“It takes some of the edge off, a little bit," Drazan said.
Her new power play unit took to the ice twice, and capitalized on both occasions, with Drazan earning a goal and an assist.
“It’s a lot of firepower," she said. "Gigi (Marvin) moves the puck really well, Mac (McKenzie) finds openings, and Bobbi (Ross) is an unbelievable screener and tipper. Anya (Miller) – we all know she can shoot.”
“It’s nice to have a strong power play this year, and hopefully we’ll capitalize on the power play chances we get.”
Emily West notched her first career goal, deflecting a Marvin pass by the Northeastern goalie (at right).
Jen Schoullis also debuted impressively, contributing a pair of assists and clanking a noisy near-miss off of the crossbar.
Kim Hanlon made 19 saves in earning her first victory of the season and the first for Brad Frost as the head coach.
“Our kids have been itching to get on the ice and play somebody other than themselves for the last couple weeks -- they’ve been ready,” Frost said.
“We just wanted to make sure we got a ‘W’," McKenzie said.
For the Gophers, the losing a brace and a "red shirt" made winning easier.
|Something Old, Something New|
Seniors and Frosh Provide Scoring in 4-2 Comeback Versus Boston U
A new season brings a fresh start and a cause for optimism. But a positive outlook is tested when a team retreats to its lockerroom for the second intermission facing a 2-1 deficit to a Boston University team that it is expected to beat.
Time for a pep talk by the staff? Not according to Coach Brad Frost.
“We have great leadership. All the kids know what’s at stake. We’re playing all right, but once again have a few lapses that cost us. But offensively, we’re doing a lot of things that it’s just a matter of time, hopefully, until that dam breaks."
Senior defenseman Anya Miller (pictured) put the first crack in the dam that was the Terrier defensive effort when she connected for an unassisted power play goal just 48 seconds into the third period. According to Miller, she didn't try to do anything too fancy when she found the puck on her stick in the high slot.
“Just shot – threw in on net," she said.
“It’s nice to be rewarded for all of those chances that you were getting. You can get frustrated if you can’t hit your chances and nothing is going in.”
The score remained tied at 2-2 for ten minutes, until senior Erica McKenzie (pictured) put on a show in the offensive zone. She circled the defense on her backhand, switched to her forehand and got off a shot. When she got the puck back once more and started on another circuit, she spotted a path to the net.
"I was winded," McKenzie said. "I liked that when they kind of just gave me that lane.”
“I didn’t get a shot on net – I tried to pull it through the defenseman, and it ricocheted off of her stick, and I pulled it on my backhand and shot.”
The goal made it 3-2 and stood up for McKenzie's second gamewinner in two days.
“We all knew what we had to do," Miller said. "We kind of focused on some of the things that we weren’t doing in the first two periods, tried to buckle down, do the little things, and just put the puck away."
A pair of Minnesota rookies provided bookend goals around the two senior tallies. Emily West (pictured) tied the score at 1-1 in the first period when she combined with Gigi Marvin on a pretty 2-on-1 rush.
Jen Schoullis (pictured) provided some insurance with a tip of a Melanie Gagnon shot.
“They’re dynamic," Frost said. "Westy just gets up and down the rink so well. She’s such a smart player – just does so many things well for that line."
"Schoullis isn’t as flashy, but she just grinds it out. She communicates very well and gets the puck to the net, and is finally rewarded with her first goal in the last couple of minutes. But she had plenty of opportunities throughout the weekend.”
“I thought from day one that they’re going to contribute right away," McKenzie said. "And I think they’ve done just that in the first weekend.”
Another frosh, Jenny Lura (pictured), earned her first victory between the Gopher pipes.
“We wanted to throw her into the fire, so to speak, and she responded pretty well – in particular after the first shot on net went in.”
The win enabled the Gophers to sweep the Nike Bauer Women's Classic and open the season with two wins for the first time in three seasons.
“We came back and we battled," McKenzie said. "The difference between last year’s team and this year’s, I don’t know if we’d have been able to do that against any team. I think that’s very promising, and it shows a lot of character from our team.”
|SCSU Takes 3 of 4 Points in Gophers’ WCHA Opener|
4-4 Tie, 2-1 Win Break String of 24 Losses to Minnesota
For the last six seasons, the Huskies of St. Cloud State University have been the Gophers’ security blanket in the WCHA. No matter what else was going right or wrong in their hockey universe, a series versus SCSU meant four points for Minnesota in the league standings. The Gophers graduated three straight classes that knew only perfection against the Huskies. Coming into this season, the last and only time when Minnesota played St. Cloud and did not win was on February 10, 2001, so long ago that the World Trade Center still stood and Tom Kelly was the Twins manager.
Apparently, the Huskies decided that 24 straight defeats to the Gophers were more than enough. On Friday, they battled back from a 2-goal deficit to take a 4-3 lead over Minnesota in the third period. The Maroon and Gold salvaged a 4-4 tie on the strength of a Brittany Francis power play goal.
“A little frustrating letting them stay in the game, once again,” said coach Brad Frost. “We talked about that with Northeastern, and we did that again tonight.”
“The easiest way to allow a team to stay in the game is to be in the box all night.”
The winning streak over St. Cloud was over, but the unbeaten streak remained. The Huskies took care of that the very next day, triumphing 2-1in the Saturday rematch in St. Cloud via a third period power play goal of their own. The loss dropped Minnesota's record to 2-1-1, 0-1-1 in the WCHA.
The Gophers showed some improvement defensively, but for the first time this year, they struggled to score. Only Rachael Drazan managed to find the back of the net, connecting with a low shot on the short side with the skater advantage. Whether the dip in production was attributable to the larger ice surface, their first day game of the season, or the efforts of the Huskies, the Gophers continued an early trend of leaving too many chances unfinished.
“We definitely have to capitalize on our opportunities in the offensive zone,” said Gigi Marvin, who scored her first goal of the season on Friday.
“Just put the puck on net. Anything that goes through the net or hits the goalie is good. Anything above the net does my team no good.”
A lack of discipline has been a big problem for the Gophers to date. Through the season’s early weeks, they rank third in the country with over 19 minutes of penalties per game. Meanwhile, two-time defending champion Wisconsin is in their customary position near the bottom of a category that nobody wants to lead, averaging less than ten minutes per game.
“We’ve got to eliminate the mistakes that we’re making, we’ve got to stay out of the box,” Frost said.
The number of penalties hurts in multiple ways. Teams have a hard time establishing a rhythm when the normal flow of the lines is constantly interrupted for special teams play. Having a player in the penalty box for nearly the equivalent of a period of play shortens the game and lessens the opportunity to pull away from an opponent. And obviously, taking penalties means power plays for the opposition.
The penalty troubles have been exacerbated by early season struggles by the penalty-killing unit. Minnesota has allowed at least one power play goal in each game, and at just over 80%, their penalty kill is languishing near the bottom of the rankings.
“I felt we should be a really good killing team,” said co-captain Bobbi Ross. “We have a lot of very experienced killers, very strong killers. It seems like when we do make one tiny little mistake, it turns into a big one, and it winds up in the back of our net.”
Ross showed signs over the weekend that she is returning to form after suffering a fractured jaw over the summer.
“I got all the wires off by the beginning of July,” she said. “I dropped a lot of weight when I couldn’t eat solids, and I didn’t put it all back on. Can’t use that as a cop out. I felt a little bit better.”
Ross also got her first goal of the season on Friday rebound.
“It was nice to have the puck just laying there for me to swat in.”
At times, the Gophers look like one team on offense, and a completely different crew when forced to defend in their own end.
“Sometimes, we’d be dominating, getting every shot in the world, chances, pucks going over the net – other times we’d have breakdowns in our defensive zone, which is unacceptable,” Marvin said.
“If we clean that up, we’ll be fine.”
“It actually felt a lot like last year, where we’d be real excited in the offensive zone, but at times we’d forget to help out in our D-zone,” Ross said.
Ross agrees that the team will need to improve defensively in order to contend, and they’ll have to start small.
“Just winning the little battles, getting the puck out.”
|Shorthanded Gophers Triumph|
Bonnie Olein Inspires 3-1 Win Over Top-Ranked UMD
The Gophers were set to honor long-time equipment manager Bonnie Olein at Friday’s game versus Duluth. When her two and a half year battle with cancer ended Tuesday night, Minnesota was left to honor her memory instead.
“Our week of practice wasn’t the best we’ve ever seen,” Coach Brad Frost said. “It was an emotional time. We expected that, and it was, but at the same time, we knew that when we dropped the puck tonight, we were going to be ready to go.”
Minnesota improved to 4-2-1 on the season by outshooting the #1 Bulldogs in every period, building a 43-20 shots on goal advantage for the game.
“We focused and played a very good puck possession game and got the puck deep when we needed to,” Frost said. “We were able to capitalize on 3 of the 43 shots on net.”
No small task against UMD and star goaltender Kim Martin.
“Martin played great,” Frost said. “She’s one of the best in the world. Getting that first one by her, gave us more confidence.”
Co-captain Bobbi Ross bested Martin twice while skating on the penalty killing unit, set up by senior classmate Erica McKenzie both times. The first came in the second period to break a scoreless tie.
“Erica McKenzie actually blocked two shots on that kill, and made a great play to save that kill to begin with,” Ross said.
McKenzie gained possession of the puck, and though she and Ross were nearing the end of their shift, they broke up the ice on a 2-on-1. McKenzie carried the puck to the right circle, drawing the lone defender wide before she slid the puck across to Ross.
“The pass had to come a long way to get to me,” Ross said. “We weren’t that close together, so I figured that [Martin] would commit all the way over. I tried to go around her, and it worked out – barely.”
UMD answered with a power play goal less than a minute later, and the score stayed knotted at 1-1 until former Bulldog Rachael Drazan connected at 16:55 of the second period with the eventual gamewinner.
“We were struggling a little bit to get in their zone, they were pressuring really well,” she said.
Drazan took the initiative, speeding by a pair of Duluth defenders and using another as a screen. Martin got a piece of her shot, but not enough to keep it out of the net.
“I couldn’t see how it went in, maybe I got lucky,” Drazan said.
“We have a good rivalry with Duluth. Right now, it’s about heart and emotion, and we played for Bonnie tonight.”
Ross put an exclamation point on the win in the game’s final minute, taking another short-handed pass from McKenzie and zipping the puck by Martin.
“It’s hard,” she said. “Everyone has tried to do a good job of focusing on this game. Obviously today we had her out there with us. This was always Bonnie’s favorite series, and we remembered that.”
Jenny Lura made 19 saves in collecting her first WCHA win.
“It helped that we were playing Duluth, I think,” Frost said. “They bring out the best in us.”
The team is renaming its unsung hero award to be the “Bonnie Olein Unsung Hero Award”. Ross said that was a perfect choice, given that Olein took care of so much for the team while earning so little recognition.
On Friday, her team did what it could to properly honor her memory by taking care of business on the ice.
|Minnesota Celebrates Reunion By Sweeping Bulldogs|
3 Point Performances by McKenzie and Ross Highlight 5-1 Win
The Raise your hand if you expected the Gophers to sweep UMD convincingly this weekend. Anyone who now has a hand in the air as they read this most likely skates around the ice with an “M” on their jersey, or coaches those who do.
Minnesota (5-2-1, 3-2-1 WCHA) finished off the series against their #1 ranked rivals to the north in impressive fashion, scoring three times in the first period and breezing to a 5-1 win.
Maybe the fans should have seen this coming. Just 51 weeks earlier, the Gophers’ record stood at 4-3-1 when they hosted an undefeated Bulldog team. Minnesota responded with a sweep on that occasion as well.
“We just played a great sixty minutes again tonight,” Coach Brad Frost said. “At the start we were on our heels a little. We knew that Duluth would come out a little harder than they did yesterday.”
“I think the tide really turned when we killed off that 5-on-3,” Frost said.
Goaltender Jenny Lura, who improved her personal record to 3-1, stood tall along with penalty killers Bobbi Ross, Anya Miller, and Rachael Drazan during 50 seconds of two-skater disadvantage. When Gigi Marvin came out of the penalty box, she joined them in defending the remaining UMD power play time.
“Our 3 killers were on the ice for close two 2 minutes there, blocking shots and doing the little things that help us be successful,” Frost said.
Earlier, Ross ignited the Gopher offense. While killing off the first minute off Marvin’s penalty, she found Erika McKenzie behind the Duluth defense. The left wing from Hastings went to her backhand and slipped the puck between goalie Kim Martin’s skate and the post.
It was the third time on the weekend that the two seniors collaborated on a short-handed goal. McKenzie said during her four seasons at Minnesota, she has most often found herself skating on a line with Marvin or Ross, and that familiarity was on evidence versus the Bulldogs.
Six minutes later at the conclusion of a Gopher power play, McKenzie tucked home a rebound with assists going to both Marvin and Ross. It was McKenzie’s ninth goal of the season and a nation-leading fourth gamewinner.
“We lost two games that I believe we should have won so far in the season,” McKenzie said. “It’s funny, because we keep questioning why. We have the parts; we have the people to make this successful. It just wasn’t coming together, this weekend it did, and we showed what we can really do.”
Brittany Francis, Ross, and Kelli Blankenship also scored for Minnesota.
Senior center Jenelle Philipczyk, who picked up an assist on the Francis goal, said, “This weekend means a lot to us. Not just playing UMD, but playing in front of the whole program, everyone who has been here in the past. I know that me, and the rest of my class and the rest of the team really wanted to play for them and uphold the tradition – and for Bonnie especially.”
The challenge for the Gophers becomes maintaining this level of play.
“Now we know what we can do, so there’s no excuse not to do this every weekend,” Philipczyk said. “I think we hold a different standard for ourselves for the rest of the year.”
To find something to criticize about the team on this weekend, one may need to branch out into the world of fashion. Reviews were mixed regarding the new gold helmets, which seemed to work better with the gold jerseys than the white.
“We were a little nervous at first, but we really like them,” Philipczyk said. “They take a little getting used to, but I like them a lot.”
Whether this was a sign of the Gophers elevating their play for the rest of the season or just inspired play due to off ice motivation and a visit from a top-ranked rival, Minnesota doesn’t have long to wait for an answer. The team travels to Madison to challenge the two-time NCAA champion Badgers next weekend.
“We’re in the middle of a meat grinder here, heading to Wisconsin, and then two weeks later, back up in Duluth,” Frost said.
“This is such a confidence booster for our kids. We’ve been struggling to play decent hockey through the first six games, and we were able to come out here and play 120 minutes of really solid hockey, fundamental hockey – chipping it out, chipping it in. I’m not too worried about a letdown at all.”
McKenzie summed it up well.
“The number one team in the country comes to our barn, and we sweep them, winning by at least a couple of goals each game. I think it shows what we’re made of and what we can do. The biggest thing for our team is we gotta make sure we do that night in and night out.”
|Gophers Deny North Dakota and Parity a Chance|
Talent, Effort Carry Team to 5-1 Win
One sees it every week around the WCHA – parity is on the brink, bringing with it uncertain results and ulcers to coaches and fans alike. The latest example – Bemidji State, winless in the WCHA, held two-time NCAA and WCHA champion Wisconsin to a scoreless tie on Saturday.
So how does a team like Minnesota (8-4-1, 6-4-1 WCHA) avoid a similar fate against a hard-working North Dakota team under new coach Brian Idalski? The Gophers’ recipe in the first game of their series was to match that work ethic and never give the Fighting Sioux (2-9-4, 2-5-2 WCHA) a chance to get started.
Before the season, co-captain Bobbi Ross said this Gopher team wanted to be known for it’s hard work. A game like Saturday’s must be what she had envisioned. In a telling first period, UND attempted 12 shots, and 8 of them were blocked by Minnesota defenders before they could reach winning goaltender Kim Hanlon.
“I thought we did a much better job of playing 60 minutes,” Ross said. “In the early part of the season when we got ahead of another team, we let them stay in the game and our intensity level dropped a little.”
At 10:18 of the opening period, Ross connected for the game’s first goal, always crucial when playing an underdog.
“That play came because Jen Schoullis and Erica McKenzie did a lot of the dirty work,” Ross said. “They’d been cycling, and Schoullis got the puck to the net and Erica got a stick on the puck when she had a player all over her. It just happened to be sitting there for me. I don’t know how it went in exactly, but it did.”
Minnesota put the game out of reach in the second frame, outscoring North Dakota 3-1.
Gigi Marvin backhanded a shot off a Sioux defender and past goalie Brittany Kirkham, with assists going to line mates Kelli Blankenship and Emily West.
Schoullis took a power play pass from Brittany Francis and scored her fourth of the year, with West earning another assist, upping the lead to 3-0.
For the game, nine of North Dakota’s 17 shots on goal came while they were on the power play. Kelsey Fletcher took advantage of an opportunity with a 4-on-3 skater advantage to cut the deficit to 3-1.
“The main chances we gave up were certainly when we were shorthanded,” Coach Brad Frost said. “We needed to do a better job being a little more disciplined, staying out of the box.”
Ross got that goal back just over a minute later. With UND on another 4-on-3 power play, Rachael Drazan got the puck to Ross and they broke up the ice with no Sioux defender in their path.
“I looked at Drazan and I wanted to apologize, because she did all the work to get that play, and there was no way I was going to pass it up,” Ross said. “I don’t know how to play a 2-on-0, so I just played it as a breakaway. It definitely helped, because I had a lot of net to shoot at with Drazan on the backdoor.”
The short-handed goal was the third of the season for Ross, tied for most in the country.
Francis provided the final score in the 5-1 win in the third period, taking a pass from Dagney Willey, and breaking in 2-on-1 with Jenelle Philipczyk.
“I was thinking of passing it to her, but the defense took away the pass,” Francis said. “And the goalie was even cheating, so I took the shot.”
Hanlon made 16 saves in improving her record to 4-1-1 on the season.
“Overall, it was a good effort,” Frost said. “We were running four D tonight, with a couple people out due to injury, and a forward out with the flu. They played well, and we were fortunate to get some opportunistic goals.”
Anya Miller and Alexandra Zebro were the injured defensemen, while forward Terra Rasmussen saw limited action due to her illness. Miller’s shoulder injury looked to be the only one to be a concern beyond this weekend.
With Rasmussen out, Francis took extra shifts on a fourth line with Laura May and Jaimie Horton, who played her first game after suffering a broken leg this summer.
“It does [help],” Francis said of the extra ice time. “It gets you going, gets the legs going. More into the game.”
“It hasn’t been my best season,” she said. “I started off pretty slow – I don’t know why, I just couldn’t get into it. My line’s been working really well lately, we’ve been clicking, just working a lot harder.”
“Jenelle Philipczyk and Whitney Graft are extremely hard workers, and they just make me want to work harder.”
The Gophers will need to continue that hard work in the coming games if they want to avoid being on the wrong end of an upset.
“Coach Frost came in after the game, and after congratulating everybody, he mentioned that yesterday Wisconsin won 7-0, and they came out today and played to a tie,” Ross said. “When a team loses Friday, they come out twice as hard the next day. So we’re going to have to, too. We can’t be complacent in any way.”
Wounded Gophers Survive Sioux
West, Marvin Ignite Offense in 5-3 Victory
At a Chalk Talk before Sunday’s game, assistant coach Tom Osiecki made a comment that when players are struggling to score, they often try to shoot the puck harder, when what they need to do is release the shot more quickly and surprise the goalie. Gigi Marvin was not in attendance, but she apparently got the message anyway.
After threatening the goal throughout the previous weekend in Duluth with nothing to show for it, Marvin got Minnesota (9-4-1, 7-4-1 WCHA) off to a quick start by connecting on her first shot just 49 seconds into the game. The junior center went with a quick wrist shot rather than a slapper as she broke into the right circle.
“I looked up, and I shot,” she said. “The goalie’s angle was completely off, and it hit her glove and went right in.”
Marvin’s line mate Emily West doubled the lead when she shredded the North Dakota (2-10-4, 2-6-2 WCHA) defense at 4:06.
“I pulled it to the middle and saw that the defenseman was a little outside,” West said.
From there, West showed the puck on her backhand side, slid it to her forehand, and beat Brittany Kirkham to her blocker.
For a line that has struggled to find the net at times this season, it was a welcome change, made all the better when Marvin assisted West’s wraparound goal in the third period.
“Our line has had a lot of chances, and we’re working hard, and it’s great to see the puck go in,” Marvin said.
The early two-goal lead was needed, because from that point forward, each team scored three times. When UND scored a minute into the second period, they momentarily drew even at two.
Erica McKenzie put the Gophers back on top 40 seconds later with her team-leading 11th goal of the season. McKenzie carried the puck from behind the net, spun, and fired a low shot past Kirkham.
Later in the period, three-year captain Bobbi Ross limped off the ice and did not return to the Gopher lineup.
“It was definitely a loss – she’s a great player,” West said. “We need to come out just like we did at the beginning of the game with [Alexandra] Zebro and Anya [Miller] out, and get psyched to play no matter who is out.”
The score stayed at 3-2 into the third period, when Rachael Drazan and West scored just over a minute apart. Drazan’s goal proved to be the eventual gamewinner, her third such tally of the year.
Jenny Lura collected the win, improving to 5-3 on the season.
“It was a big 4 points,” said coach Brad Frost of the weekend sweep. “It wasn’t the prettiest thing – somewhat ugly, but it’s a win.”
“We need to improve; we need to get healthy here as well, and hopefully that happens this week.”
Refocused Gophers Continue Roll
Hanlon Backstops Second Shutout
November 17th might eventually prove to be an important date in Minnesota’s season. Not for what the Gophers accomplished on the ice – their 5-0 defeat at the hands of rival Minnesota-Duluth was their most lopsided loss of the year. The key was how they responded to that setback.
Junior Kim Hanlon returned to the net after going four weeks between starts, earned a shutout win, and after Friday’s 5-0 blanking of Bemidji State has allowed a total of one goal in her last three starts.
Both the team and goaltender Hanlon had the same requirement before that bounce-back win in Duluth.
“We’ve got to refocus – forget about yesterday,” she said.
“The few weeks I had where I didn’t play in games were rough,” Hanlon said.
“[Freshman goaltender Jenny] Lura was playing well; she was doing a good job.”
The Gophers won 3 of 5 games while Hanlon sat and waited her next opportunity.
“She really elevated her work in practice, knowing that she was battling for a spot,” Coach Brad Frost said.
After yielding 15 goals in her first four appearances, she has saved 54 of 55 shots faced.
“And our team, in return, has been playing better in front of her,” Frost said.
Minnesota (10-4-1, 8-4-1 WCHA) displayed that improvement against the Beavers (1-11-3, 0-9-2 WCHA), although the coach thought his team started off slowly.
“The first period was pretty sluggish, and I didn’t think we played all that well,” Frost said. “We certainly had some offensive opportunities, and did some nice things that way.”
Senior Erica McKenzie started the scoring off on a power play midway through the first. Rachael Drazan moved the puck quickly to Gigi Marvin, who found McKenzie cutting to the net on the backside of the play. Bemidji St. protested that the puck had been kicked into the net, but the goal stood.
“It actually hit the middle of my skate and my stick,” McKenzie said. “I had no kicking motion, it bounced off, so I don’t know what the controversy is about.”
Marvin made it 2-0 with another power play goal, firing home a Drazan shot as it rebounded off the goal post. When Bobbi Ross batted in the rebound of a McKenzie wraparound, the game was all but over.
Marvin led the attack with two goals and two assists, while Drazan, Brittany Francis, and Dagney Willey had two assists each. Melanie Gagnon scored her first goal of the season.
The result was a far cry from the lackluster showing of the Gophers in a 2-0 loss to the Beavers last season.
“I think we’re just a different team this year,” McKenzie said. “Last year, that happened with a lot of teams where they came in here and split games.”
“We had a ton of chances. Tonight they didn’t go in, but tomorrow we have to capitalize on them.”
Frost said that the key to Minnesota’s success goes beyond what is displayed on the scoresheet.
“In the past, we’ve been more of a one-line team,” he said. “This year for sure we have two that have put the puck in the net consistently. Our third line is getting some chances, and [Terra Rasmussen], [Jaimie] Horton and [Laura] May had some chances.”
“Our top two lines are the ones cashing in right now, but everybody is generating offense, which then gains momentum for everybody.”
Ross Goal Foils Brookshaw, Beavers
Lura’s First Shutout Ensures 1 Goal Is Enough
Bobbi Ross has scored some big goals for Minnesota in her career – a pair vs. Providence in a 2005 NCAA quarterfinal, a hat trick to beat UMD in ’05-06, two shorthanders in the first win over the Bulldogs this year – and after most, she has managed to deflect praise to someone else.
Even after she scored on the most individual of all plays, the penalty shot that was one of four Ross goals that ruined New Hampshire’s dream season in the 2006 Frozen Four, she credited backup goaltender Natalie Lamme for helping her work on the move in practice.
Thus, her description of her goal that allowed Minnesota (11-4-1, 9-4-1 WCHA) to defeat Bemidji State (1-12-3, 0-10-2 WCHA) by a 1-0 score shouldn’t surprise anyone.
“I was in the right place to cash in on other people’s hard work,” Ross said. “Erica McKenzie and Jen Schoullis fought behind the net to get that puck free, which was huge. Erica had her head up and found Rachael Drazan, who was screaming coming down the slot for that pass. Rachael just made an amazing pass – had her head up, and I was wide open. I had the easiest job on the ice, to just swat the puck into an open net.”
Despite Ross’ claims, getting the puck past Emily Brookshaw was anything but easy.
“Brookshaw was absolutely outstanding, and they blocked a lot of shots,” said Coach Brad Frost.
The senior goalie for the Beavers saved 44 Gopher shots, plus she forced McKenzie to miss the net on a first-period penalty shot.
“As the game went on, and there were more and more shots and we’re not getting any closer to scoring a goal, there’s some frustration,” Ross said. “We did try to get a little closer, because it didn’t seem to be working shooting from the outside.”
One of the keys to Minnesota finally being able to get closer and score on Brookshaw was the play made by junior defenseman Drazan. The Gopher blue line was shorthanded once more as Anya Miller and Alexandra Zebro returned to the injured list after playing in the series opener. When Drazan left the lineup temporarily after being shaken up just before the end of the first period, it was the versatile Ross who moved back to defense for a shift.
“The defense, because there was only four of us, played more of a defensive game,” Drazan said.
As the scoreless game moved into its final ten minutes with overtime looming, she broke for the Bemidji St. net.
“At that particular moment, I just saw an opening,” she said. “Being a D, you know that you play a 2-on-1, and I saw the [last defender] coming to me.”
According to Drazan, being a left-handed shot aided her in receiving McKenzie’s pass and sending it to Ross at the backdoor for the finish.
“The kids played hard all night and were finally rewarded for it,” Frost said.
“Drazan has been tremendous for us. She absolutely brings another dimension – she’s fourth on our team in scoring.”
The lone goal would not have been enough without Jenny Lura turning in her first shutout while wearing the “M” of Minnesota. While Bemidji only managed 16 shots on goal, they did have some scoring chances, particularly on a flurry after the Gophers took the lead.
“They came back really hard, and I knew that I had to shut the door,” Lura said.
Minnesota has been back to splitting starts in net for the last three weekends, after a stretch over which either Lura or Kim Hanlon started both games of a series.
“Obviously, I want to play as many games as I can,” Lura said. “That 5-0 game against Duluth really gave Kim a chance to come back. It was right that she got the chance, because she’s a really good goalie as well.”
For now, the rotation seems to be working, as the two goaltenders combined to hold the Beavers scoreless for the weekend. Strong play in net will be key, as the Gophers need every point WCHA point that they can get, chasing the Bulldogs who lead them by three points in the conference race. The two teams have already completed their head-to-head meetings for the season.
“We need help,” Frost said. “Certainly, we need to keep doing what we do. It’s such a long season – we’ll see what happens. We can control what we can control.”
Next on the Minnesota schedule is a trip to Mankato to take on the Mavericks.
“We’ve had some troubles playing in Mankato, and maybe we’ll learn to come out a little quicker,” Ross said. “Hopefully we’ll find a way to sweep again.”
|Gophers Squander 2-Goal Lead, Tie Boston College |
St. Paul Native Scores Both Goals for Eagles
For the second time this season Minnesota had to settle for a tie in a home game in which they had once led by two goals.
“I think we know that we let this one get away,” said Coach Brad Frost. “Certainly BC had something to do with that – they played hard, in particular in the second half of that game. We were in control of the game, and it’s a little frustrating to let it slip away.”
The Gophers (14-4-3, 11-4-1 WCHA) controlled much of the play, and most of the stats. Senior defenseman Anya Miller’s goal at 12:12 of the second period put Minnesota ahead 2-0, but Allie Thunstrom answered for Boston College (8-7-4, 4-5-1 HEA) just 99 seconds later.
Thunstrom’s second goal of the game off of a goalmouth scramble at 18:32 of the third period allowed the Eagles to escape with a 2-2 tie despite trailing for all but 2:34 seconds of regulation.
“Unfortunately, we missed a back check at the end and all of a sudden [the puck] is in,” Frost said.
For Minnesota, the key may have occurred much earlier in the contest. They led only 2-1 after two periods, despite having a 33-14 advantage in shots on goal, and a 64-22 dominance in shot attempts.
The Gophers controlled the second period to an even greater extent – 20 to 7 in SOG and 40-12 in attempts. But Miller’s shot from the circle was the only one to beat Eagle goaltender Molly Schaus.
“Kelli [Blankenship] just made a great pass – she just put it out there perfectly,” Miller said. “I just shot and it went in.”
Blankenship, playing on Gigi Marvin’s line in place of the injured Emily West, had a strong game.
“[Blankenship] had some good jump, and certainly on that goal, had her head up,” Frost said. “It was a great pass, and obviously a great shot.”
Brittany Francis also assisted on the goal, as well as on Marvin’s tally just 66 seconds into the game.
“We just dumped it in and got a good fore check,” Marvin said. “[Francis] brought it to the net and the rebound was there, and I put it home.”
The Gophers had numerous chances to increase their lead. Sometimes they were denied by standout goaltender Schaus. On other occasions, they pushed their shots just outside of an open net.
“We had a lot of opportunities,” Marvin said. “Not to take anything away from their goaltender; she played well.”
Minnesota goalie Kim Hanlon also played well in recording 28 saves, some worthy of the highlight reel.
“We’ve got to capitalize on the chances that we get in our offensive zone,” Miller said. “If we get the puck anywhere near that goal, we’ve got to put it away.”
Given how closely teams figure to be bunched in the national rankings, every point in the standings is crucial.
“We talked about doing the little things,” Frost said. “We have to back check hard and clear our net front. Just as important, we have to bear down on our opportunities when we have them. It’s a little thing, but it can cost us the game, and it did tonight.”
The tie makes Sunday’s final nonconference game of the season even more crucial.
“We have to learn from today, and the kids need to come back hungry and ready to go,” Frost said.
Gophers Grab 3 Points From Eagles
Rookies Lura and May Key 2-1 Minnesota Victory
In some ways, Minnesota was in control for much of the weekend against Boston College. They held a lead for almost 115 minutes during the series and forced the visitors to fight an uphill battle against the clock.
But in both games, the Gophers (15-4-3, 11-4-1 WCHA) seemed to relax after taking a two-goal lead and allowed the game to reach a much closer conclusion. On Sunday, frosh Jenny Lura stopped 21 of the 22 shots she faced in making her father Dave’s trip from Vancouver worthwhile.
“I love it when my parents come [to the games],” Lura said.
She improved her personal record to 8-3-1.
“We played a great 20 minutes in the first period today, and then we came out in the second period and it was like we hadn’t played hockey all that effectively before,” Coach Brad Frost said. “Certainly our goaltending kept us in that second period.”
“The third was a little better, but a costly turnover and all of a sudden it’s 2-1.”
When the Eagles (8-8-4, 4-5-1 HEA) scored at 11:19 of the third period, they appeared ready to repeat their comeback of the day before, when they salvaged a tie in the game’s final two minutes. This time, Minnesota held on for a 2-1 win despite a late BC power play and a minute and a half facing an extra attacker.
Strangely, the Gophers seemed to play better when at a skater disadvantage, successfully killing off all four penalties on the day and seven during the series, and having the better chances while the Boston College net was empty.
For the second straight day, Minnesota opened the scoring on the first rotation through the lines. Laura May beat Molly Schaus with a low shot from in front of the net for her first goal as a Gopher at 2:31.
“It was a great thrill,” May said. “We had to step up right away.”
Melanie Gagnon and Whitney Graft assisted on May’s goal. Finding another source of offense was crucial as the first line was held without a goal for the series.
“That is the cool part of a team game like hockey – everybody is not going to bring their best every single night,” Frost said. “You have to be there for each other.”
Defenseman Anya Miller continued her hot streak, scoring her seventh goal of the year, and third in as many games. Her goal midway through the first period resulted from passes by Bobbi Ross and Brittany Francis, but Minnesota failed to score again over the game’s final 50 minutes.
“We’ve always been that kind of team, where we come out and score right away, and then (the intensity drops),” Lura said.
The Gophers head to Grand Forks to take on the Fighting Sioux with a national best eleven game unbeaten streak intact.
“I think it is a confidence issue – we can pull out a win even though we didn’t play our best, and hopefully we can continue to move forward,” Frost said.
Buoyed By Return of Gagnon and West, Gophers Keep Rolling
3-1 Win Extends Unbeaten Streak Overall and at Home
Minnesota hasn’t lost in more than two months and 14 games. The Gophers (18-4-3, 14-4-1 WCHA) have yet to lose all season in Ridder Arena, where their record is 10-0-2.
On Friday versus Minnesota State University – Mankato (6-16-1, 5-13-1 WCHA) defenseman Melanie Gagnon and wing Emily West celebrated their return from injury by scoring the game’s first and second goals respectively.
In her first game back after sliding heavily into the boards and injuring her shoulder on Saturday in Grand Forks, Gagnon connected with a slap shot from just inside the blue line with traffic around the Maverick goal. The shot came with just over a minute remaining in the first period and allowed the Gophers to take a lead into the dressing room. Minnesota is now 17-0-2 when scoring first and 15-0-2 when leading after one period.
“It was great for me to remind myself that I can still play hockey,” Gagnon said. “It was a great confidence boost for me, gave me confidence, and hopefully helped the team out.”
Minnesota seemed to take some energy from the goal and added two more in the middle frame. West, who injured her knee in the opening moments of the second game of 2008, cashed in the 7th goal of her freshman campaign off of a goalmouth scramble. Rachael Drazan scored a goal similar to Gagnon’s on a last minute power play.
“It’s a big enforcement tool if you can score on the power play,” Coach Brad Frost said. “If you don’t score and you can’t score, (the Mavericks) continue to play their game. I thought our power play had some great chances, great opportunities.”
The Gophers had a number of near misses throughout, but were most effective when they focused on getting the puck through to the net.
“I think that’s the main key for our team,” Gagnon said. “Just to see the play – I love to hit shin pads apparently, and I do that pretty well. Just seeing the ice and seeing what they are giving us.”
“Kids were moving their feet the whole time, and I thought we had great jump all night,” Frost said.
Goalie Kim Hanlon, who improved her personal season record to 9-1-2, is on a roll that mirrors that of the team. She had a promising rookie season cut short by a postseason ankle injury, and struggled to find the same form as a sophomore. When her slump continued through the first three weeks of October, she was benched for the next two series. Hanlon returned to the Minnesota net on November 18th in Duluth, and neither she nor the team has lost since.
“She is playing at an extremely high level and has been now for the last month and a half, two months,” Frost said. “It gives our team great confidence, to be able to take some chances, take some risks, and know that she’s going to be there to bail them out.”
Whether it is a matter of finally being healthy again or just regaining her confidence, Hanlon has been a different goaltender since returning to the rotation.
“Something happened; I just turned it around and decided I’ve got to keep my team in the game,” she said.
She has done that and more; in her last eight starts, she has held the opposition scoreless for an average of more than 48 minutes from the start of the game. That was true again versus Minnesota State, stopping 22 of the 23 shots that she faced, and keeping the Mavericks off the board for over 55 minutes.
“Since I came back from being on the bench, I’ve just been seeing the puck really well – it seems like it is a big, old softball.”
The Gophers have the look of a dangerous team as players return from injuries and slumps.
“We’ve got great depth on forward, on D, and goaltending,” Gagnon said. “It just shows that we’re a competitor for a national championship.”
Gophers Slip By Mavericks in Battle of Power Plays
Minnesota Takes Different Route to Familiar Ending
The Gophers have proven themselves to be effective frontrunners; grabbing a lead early and holding it has led to many of their victories. Success hasn’t come as easily when they’ve been the team facing an early deficit.
Entering Saturday’s game versus Minnesota State-Mankato, the Gophers (19-4-3, 15-4-1 WCHA) had only one win when the opponent scored first and none when they trailed after one period. But due to some early penalty problems and efficient work on the power play by the Mavericks (6-17-1, 5-14-1 WCHA), Minnesota found itself in a 0-2 hole just over ten minutes into the contest.
“It was an interesting game the way it started out with the 5-minute major, and then a 5-on-3 a couple minutes after that,” Coach Brad Frost said. “To be down two-nothing early on really wasn’t how we drew it up.”
According to sophomore defenseman Michelle Maunu, the talk on the bench remained positive despite being behind.
“We just said we’ve got so much time, we’re playing well and we’re getting power plays, and hopefully we’ll get a couple of power-play goals off of that.”
Before the 2nd period was over, they had three goals on the power play plus one at even strength to take a 4-2 lead.
“I really liked what I saw out of our team,” Frost said. “They didn’t panic, kept believing in what we were doing.”
Bobbi Ross started the comeback with a power play goal late in the opening period. She credited Gigi Marvin for faking a shot before giving her the puck, drawing a defender out of the play and leaving Ross alone below the goal line. The co-captain carried the puck out front and waited patiently for the goalie to commit before tucking the puck in the far side.
“That power-play goal at the end of the first was huge – going into the second down two-one versus two-nothing,” Frost said.
Seven minutes into the 2nd period, Anya Miller drew Minnesota even with a slap shot past a diving defender and into the Mankato net. The goal was Miller’s eighth of the season, six coming in the last ten games after her return from injury.
Four minutes later the Gophers converted their third consecutive power play opportunity as Maunu scored her first of the season to put her team up 3-2.
“It always feels good to get the first one,” she said.
“I think we just kind of rallied around each other and realized that we have to win this game. It was awesome to see that even if we’re down, we can come back.”
Ross added an insurance goal that proved to be the gamewinner a minute later, and the team held on for a 4-3 win despite being out shot and outscored in the final period. Some of the late sag may have been attributable to fatigue, as Minnesota expended a lot of energy in killing the early run of penalties and battling to get back into the game.
“You’re playing the same six to ten kids in rapid succession – especially that 5-minute major,” Frost said. “We rotated five or six penalty killers through there, so it certainly takes something out of you.”
Maunu said the team tried to minimize the impact of those penalty kills.
“We made sure in that first period that we took really short shifts so that we didn’t get too tired. If you do that, you’re usually fine.”
Still, Minnesota continued a disturbing trend of being outscored down the stretch, turning a rather comfortable lead into a nail-biting finish when MSU pulled within one at 14:44 of the 3rd period.
“I think that subconsciously, you do change the way you play a little,” Ross said. “You start to play a little safe, and by trying to play safe, you accidently drop the intensity sometimes. That will bite you if you fall back on your heels a little too much.”
Kim Hanlon, starting on back-to-back nights for the first time since October, improved to 10-1-2. Hanlon has been splitting starts with frosh Jenny Lura, who was held out of the game because of an ongoing injury.
“It was a decision that happened a couple of hours before the game, so (Hanlon) didn’t have all night to prepare,” Frost said. “She played very well and made the big saves when she needed to.”
Erica McKenzie had three assists while Marvin contributed two helpers in the win.
“I think that overall, both of these games that we played this weekend have been a step better than anything we’ve played so far this half,” Ross said. “It bodes well if we’re on an upward incline, getting better every day.”
|Gophers Have the Answer Against Ohio State|
Marvin, Ross Spur 7-3 Victory
Ohio State got the perfect start – the Gophers struggled to get shots on net and committed a pair of overlapping penalties, leading to a power play goal and a 1-0 lead for the Buckeyes (12-14-3, 7-13-3 WCHA). From that point on, little went the visitors’ way.
Co-captain Whitney Graft corroborated with Kelli Blankenship and Jenelle Philipczyk for the answering goal just 16 seconds later, and Minnesota (22-4-3, 18-4-1 WCHA) would not trail again.
“I was happy with that – how we responded after that goal,” Graft said.
“Our team just showed the character that we want it so bad. We want to prove to them that we’re the best and we’ll come right back at you.”
Before the first period had expired, the Gophers had come back to the tune of four goals.
Emily West put the Maroon & Gold in the lead to stay with a pinpoint deflection of a Melanie Gagnon shot. Gigi Marvin swiped a pass and converted with a wrist shot upstairs. Then Rachael Drazan fired in a goal that would have earned few style points, but proved to be the eventual gamewinner nonetheless.
“Their girl helped me out, she got it with her glove, and it started bouncing,” Drazan said. “It was just one of those lucky goals – I seem to be getting the bounces this year.”
Lucky or not, it was the fifth game-winning goal of the speedy D’s nine tallies.
Thereafter, Minnesota countered every comeback attempt. OSU scored on a second-period power play; Bobbi Ross responded with a power play goal for the Gophers.
In the third period, the Bucks closed to within two goals once more. Ross negated it a minute later. Marvin closed out the scoring by finishing off a give-and-go with Drazan for the 7-3 win.
“I was a little more offensive tonight,” Drazan said. “I had planned to play more defensive – they have a couple of threats, really good players. But when the time was right, I jumped in.”
Marvin led the scoring parade with two goals and two assists, Drazan had a goal and two assists, and Anya Miller had three helpers.
But it was the less heralded line of Graft, Philipczyk, and Blankenship that got the Gophers started for the second straight game.
“We pretty much feel great,” Graft said. “We had a great week of practice. We are clicking really well, and communicating with each other on and off the ice.”
The ten goals scored were not out of the ordinary for the two teams, who combined for eleven goals in an October contest.
“Usually, one team scores a lot,” Coach Brad Frost said. “Fortunately, it was us tonight. We capitalized on some of our 41 shots.”
Some of the Gopher goals continued a recent pattern of shots from the point with players in front looking for screens, tips, and rebounds.
“The goalies in the league are so good, and we have to continue to get traffic in front,” Frost said. “If they can’t see it, that’s certainly going to benefit our team.”
Kim Hanlon made her fifth straight start in the Minnesota net and stopped 20 shots in improving to 13-1-2 on the year.
The Gophers upped the nation’s longest unbeaten streak to 18 games. That streak will receive another test on Saturday, given OSU has split its last five series versus Minnesota.
“We haven’t swept them in a long time, and I think tomorrow is the day to do that,” Drazan said. “We need to come ready to play like we did today.”
With only three weekends remaining in the regular season, the Gophers look to be getting ready for the playoffs.
“This is the fun part of the season,” Graft said. “You can get down to it, you have to play really hard, and this is where the great teams show.”
Minnesota Repeats First Period Dominance of Buckeyes
Special Teams Are Just That In Completing Sweep
For the second straight day, the Gophers skated into the first intermission with a 4-1 lead. Once again the power play clicked for Minnesota (23-4-3, 19-4-1 WCHA), finding the net three times in six chances.
On Saturday, the Gopher penalty killers also outscored the Ohio State (12-15-3, 7-14-3 WCHA) power play, earning a short-handed goal while successfully killing all four of their penalties.
Senior wing Erica McKenzie scored two goals and assisted on another, earning the game’s first star while playing with a finger she injured the previous night.
“I think we have the best (training) staff around – fortunate, and I’m glad we won,” she said.
Classmate Bobbi Ross also recorded two goals for the second straight game.
After the two teams traded even strength goals in the opening ten minutes of play, Gigi Marvin put Minnesota on top with the eventual game-winning goal while shorthanded.
“It was a great play by Whit (Graft),” Marvin said. “I knew she was behind me when I was pressuring with an angle. It was an area pass, perfect area pass. I didn’t even have to look back, I just expected it, and it was right there on my stick. I just did a little deke around the goalie.”
Marvin’s finish from a shallow angle impressed those in attendance, including Coach Brad Frost.
“It was a great play by Whit to get her the puck, but Gigi was in so tight that I don’t think that the majority of the people in our league would be able to score on that, and she found a way to get that puck in and it was really special,” he said.
Equally important was the work that the penalty killing units did in keeping Ohio St. off of the scoreboard.
“We just made a couple of minor tweaks, and the kids stayed more in the path of the shot and took things away that we were giving up last night, so we were allowing Kim (Hanlon) to see the puck and she made some good saves,” Frost said.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota power play put the game out of reach, with Ross scoring on back-to-back opportunities in the first, and McKenzie doing the honors on a 5-on-3.
“Our Gold unit started it out and kept pressure in there for most of a minute, and what was really great to see was how they changed and maintained possession of the puck and got five fresh people out there without having a whistle,” Frost said.
By the time the Gopher Maroon unit got set up, they were attacking against three very tired OSU penalty killers.
“We got everyone out there, and we just moved the puck around,” McKenzie said. “Gigi made a great pass across ice; it was a great play. Credit to the five people who weren’t even on the ice who kept it in.”
That credit could be extended beyond the box score for the game, as well as that particular goal. Whether it was digging deep to back check and break up a scoring chance for the Buckeyes, battling for the puck along the rails, or moving the puck up the ice to an open teammate, Minnesota did all of the little things that it takes to win games in the WCHA.
“I think we’re playing great,” McKenzie said. “Every single line is contributing. I couldn’t be happier with the team, and I think everyone is looking forward to the next series that we’re playing. I think we’re in a pretty good place coming down the stretch here.”
McKenzie’s three points raised her career total to 135, passing Winny Brodt and Kris Scholz and moving her into tenth place on the Gopher’s all-time points list. The next person on that list is a moving target, as Ross now has 144 points and counting.
Anya Miller contributed a pair of assists and now has 68 points in her career, fifth in the Gopher annals for defensemen, one behind former teammate Lyndsay Wall.
Plus the team unbeaten streak stretched to 19, a number that held little significance for Marvin.
“I don’t think any of our players think about the streak,” she said. “I couldn’t even tell you what our record is right now. We’re just really focusing on whom we’re playing at the moment.”
Next up for Minnesota is St. Cloud State, against whom the Gophers are 0-1-1 thus far, the only team on their schedule that they have yet to defeat.
“We’re very excited to play them,” Marvin said.
Gophers Fight Through Huskies
Varied Offense Drives Comeback 5-2 Win
Second-year coach Jeff Giesen has St. Cloud State poised to finish 4th in the WCHA, just as they did in the final season under previous coach Jason Lesteberg. The new version of the Huskies (16-11-5, 11-11-4 WCHA) may look similar in the standings, but they favor a more aggressive style on the ice, as evidenced by their increase in penalty minutes from 12.1 minutes per game to 15.4 minutes this season, challenging Minnesota State-Mankato for the lead in the conference.
As such the Huskies can be a difficult opponent to face, and they proved tough early in their Saturday game at Ridder Arena, grabbing a lead against Minnesota (25-4-3, 21-4-1 WCHA) for the third game of their four meetings.
“We like a pretty rough game as long we’re not getting penalties for playing the same way,” co-captain Bobbi Ross said.
Instead, the Gophers found themselves on the wrong end of the hits on the ice and the penalty calls made. They adjusted, as they have throughout an unbeaten streak that has now grown to 21 games, and found a way to make all of the special teams play pay off for them.
“We were parading to the penalty box quite a bit tonight, and (it was key) to kill those off, but even more importantly to score a couple of shorties,” Coach Brad Frost said.
Along with the two shorthanded goals, Minnesota found the back of the net on the power play, at full strength, and while the teams were skating 4-on-4.
Ross scored the eventual gamewinner late in the 2nd period, her 18th goal on the season. She said the goal had its origin earlier on the Gopher bench.
“Before that, our line decided that we really wanted to get one among the three of us. We went out there on that shift, and both (Erica McKenzie) and Jen Schoullis worked their butts off to make that puck come free for me.”
Once she picked up the puck along the goal line extended, Ross did the rest.
“It was a quick play, so I don’t think (SCSU goalie Kendall Newell) was ready and quite set. Her five-hole opened up a little, and it snuck through.”
Gigi Marvin also scored her 18th goal of the season, redirecting an Anya Miller pass while both teams were skating down one player. Miller, who faked a shot, stepped around the sliding defender, and closed on the net said that earlier in her career she would have opted for the safe play of putting the puck down low in the corner instead.
“If anyone was open, it wouldn’t matter,” Miller said.
“Naturally, you gain confidence, because you’re used to being out there, and it comes with every experience that you have.”
Miller totaled three points on the weekend, giving her 71 in her career, moving her past Lyndsay Wall into fourth place on the all-time list for defensemen in Gopher history.
The senior class figured heavily in the first two goals as well. Minnesota entered the second period down 1-0, but Whitney Graft drew them even.
“(Jenelle Philipczyk) did an amazing job getting the puck forechecked, and I was the second forechecker on the penalty kill,” Graft said. “Luckily, I kind of got a bounce, and I had to take it to the net, because there was no one there to help me. So I just had to pick a spot on the goalie and it went in.”
When the Huskies went back up with a power play goal, McKenzie answered 53 seconds later with her 21st goal of the year, cashing in a power play rebound.
“We’re really starting to mold as a team,” Graft said. “We just have confidence in each other, knowing that we are the more talented team.”
“No one really says it, but it’s kind of the feeling you get – I’m going to do whatever it takes to win,” Miller said.
Rachel Drazan, knocked out of Friday’s game late by a flagrant crosscheck, returned to the lineup and crashed the net to bury a rebound for the final 5-2 score. Her shorthanded goal was the team’s second of the game and ninth of the season.
Jenny Lura improved to 10-3-1 in her first action in the Minnesota goal since January 19th.
“It was good to get her back in there,” Frost said.
Just in time, because the Wisconsin Badgers visit next weekend to conclude the regular season.
“This is definitely a week that we’re looking forward to,” Miller said. “It’s definitely going to be a grind out there, we’re going to work hard, and hopefully we’ll get what we deserve if we work hard.”
Badgers Remind Gophers Who Holds Title
Unbeaten Streak Ends; Losing Streak to Wisconsin Grows
On February 16, 2002, the Wisconsin Badgers ended Minnesota’s longest single-season unbeaten streak at 24 games. On Saturday, they struck again, ending the Gophers latest run at 21 and handing the team their first loss since November 17th.
The Badgers (24-7-2, 20-5-2 WCHA) were superior from the drop of the puck, dictating play throughout much of the contest.
“They did a really good job of just playing disciplined, hard-working hockey,” co-captain Bobbi Ross said. “They were on us a little quicker than any team we’ve played recently, and that really made a big difference too.”
Wisconsin carried a 2-1 lead into the final period, and then rattled off three unanswered goals to cruise to a 5-1 win.
“We were right in the game there until the third period,” coach Brad Frost said. Unfortunately, it goes in off our stick, and suddenly it’s 3-1.”
The third Badger goal made a comeback daunting for Minnesota (25-5-3, 21-5-1 WCHA). When Meghan Duggan fired in the fourth off of a short-handed faceoff, the Gophers were visibly deflated.
“I’m not real happy with how we responded the last ten minutes of the game,” Frost said. “Hopefully, we respond better tomorrow.”
Minnesota took 4 penalties in the third period alone.
“The game never felt lost at any point throughout the first two periods,” Ross said. “We had good attitudes, and we were excited about our chance to come back. Once it got to be about 4-1, I think there was some frustration setting in.”
Jenelle Philipczyk, playing in her 150th game as a Gopher and closing in on Allie Sanchez all-time mark of 152, almost saw her career come to an abrupt end when she collided with line mate Kelli Blankenship in spectacular fashion in the 2nd period.
“She’s pretty solid; that hurt pretty bad,” Philipczyk said. “It’s like running into a wall.”
Philipczyk was able to continue without missing a shift, and combined with her other wing, Whitney Graft, for the Gophers’ only goal. Graft made a determined rush and got a shot on goaltender Jesse Vetter with Philipczyk following up and scoring on the rebound.
Vetter thwarted all other Minnesota attempts.
“It’s always tough to get one by a good goalie, but I think it mostly fell on our part,” Philipczyk said. “We didn’t pick up rebounds and we didn’t crash the net like we should have or like we had hoped that we would.”
“There’s no question that she’s one of the best goalies in the whole country,” Ross said. “But we also helped her out a bit by not creating all of the chances that we needed to.”
“On the power play in particular, she could have seen a lot more rubber than she did.”
Ross had the best chance to increase Minnesota’s goal total when she broke in alone while killing a penalty.
“I wanted to do one thing, and she kind of took it away, and I got a little stuck,” she said. “I didn’t make a very good move – she did make a nice save, but if I had it back, I’d do something different.”
Seniors Ross, Graft, Philipczyk, Erica McKenzie and Anya Miller get one final chance to end a Badger winning streak in Minneapolis that has reached eight games. The Gophers honor the five on Senior Day as the two teams close out the WCHA regular season.
“We got outworked, outplayed a lot of the game, but if we respond tomorrow, then it’s a whole different story and we get the momentum back,” Frost said.
Gophers Bounce Back, Earn Tie Versus Badgers
Point Secures Second Place in Final WCHA Standings
Minnesota didn’t get everything they wanted out of their weekend series hosting Wisconsin. Dreams of winning the WCHA regular season championship, keeping their unbeaten string intact, and earning a win over the Badgers (24-7-3, 20-5-3 WCHA) in Minneapolis for the first time in three years all fell short.
But by playing to a 2-2 tie on Sunday, Minnesota (25-5-4, 21-5-2 WCHA) bested the Badgers by one point in the WCHA race and gained the conference tournament’s number two seed.
“Certainly we wanted to come in and win, but getting that point solidified second place and we’re very happy with that,” coach Brad Frost said.
Perhaps more importantly, the Gophers proved that they could play at the level necessary to contend for postseason titles, especially encouraging coming on the heels of Saturday’s one-sided loss.
“The key was how we would respond and the effort that we would give today,” Frost said. “I don’t think we could have worked any harder.”
The hard work resulted in a pair of goals from defensemen, giving the blue line corps 25 goals on the season.
Anya Miller celebrated Senior Day by firing in a loose puck from the Badger crease on a first-period power play, her ninth goal of the year. However, she didn’t remember scoring from quite so close to the enemy net before.
“That’s unknown territory for me,” Miller said.
Bobbi Ross batted the puck out of the air and off Badger netminder Jessie Vetter, and it landed in front of Miller.
“I saw that the puck was just sitting there, and my eyes probably got huge. It was like, ‘how nice is this?’”
After Wisconsin tied it early in the second period, sophomore Alexandra Zebro lit the lamp for the first time in her Gopher career to put her team back on top.
“It was unbelievable – something that you never expect,” Zebro said of the milestone. “It was very exciting.”
Erica McKenzie worked to the Wisconsin net, forcing Vetter to sprawl to make a save. With the goaltender down, Zebro followed the play and roofed the puck.
“Bobbi is good defensively, and I knew she’d set a pick back there, so she was a little behind in the play, so I went up,” Zebro said. “The puck just happened to be there, so I went for it.”
“Z’ didn’t play a shift last night and really responded to some encouragement,” Frost said. “Just getting out there and proving that she should be playing, and she did tonight.”
Hillary Knight drew the Badgers even in the third, and neither team was able to best the goalies from that point.
Kelli Blankenship sat out to rest a knee she injured in a collision with a teammate on Saturday. Her status is game-to-game. Frosh Laura May took her place on a line with seniors Jenelle Philipczyk and Whit Graft.
“(May) was great,” Frost said. “We talk about how deep we are as a team, and I think that showed tonight, to be able to have kids step in.”
Jenny Lura was knocked down in a goalmouth scramble in the first-period, received attention from trainer Amy Hamilton, but remained in the game and stopped 23 shots.
“We played well; we played the game that we should be playing,” Miller said.
The regular season is over, and the postseason begins.
“Now you’re looking to the finish line,” Miller said. “No matter who it is, you just go out there and play every game like it’s your last.”
|Gophers Defeat North Dakota 3-1, Take 1-0 Lead in Quarterfinal Series|
Marvin, Ross Find Net
The postseason has begun in the WCHA. Now four wins are all that it takes for any team to claim the conference tournament crown.
“Everybody is 0-0, everybody’s got a clean slate,” goalie Kim Hanlon said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re last in the WCHA or first in the WCHA – it’s all wiped clean.”
Minnesota (26-5-4, 21-5-2 WCHA) took that all-important first step by playing almost all of the first two periods in the zone of North Dakota (4-25-6, 4-20-4 WCHA).
Coach Brad Frost said, “Was it our best game? No, but it certainly wasn’t our worst game by any means either. We did a lot of things well, we had the puck quite a bit, and did good things offensively.”
Senior captain Bobbi Ross scored a power play goal in each of the first two periods. Gigi Marvin, who assisted on each tally, scored an even-strength goal of her own that proved to be the gamewinner.
“Now’s the time to do it, pick it up a bit,” Marvin said.
“Every shift counts. A couple times leading up to that goal of mine, Flipper’s line was out there, and you could just tell the energy. They came off the ice, Whit was smiling, pumped up.”
Minnesota dominated the shot clock 22-1 in the opening 20 minutes, but had only Ross’ first goal to show for it.
“Our forecheck was on, our defense was stepping up when they had to, and it just meant that any time they did get the puck, we didn’t give them a lot of room to do anything with it,” Ross said.
“The team came out with great energy, and it seemed like when we got rolling a bit, we kept getting better and better. And then that carried over into the second period as well.”
By the time the Fighting Sioux where able to pose an offensive threat in the third period, they trailed 3-0.
The lead for the Gophers was due in no small part to the efficiency of their power play. Minnesota scored 16 seconds into one power play and 12 seconds along in another. Ross put away the rebound of an Anya Miller shot for one of her goals, and then converted a pretty setup by Marvin for the other.
“By faking that shot, Gigi definitely drew the defender to her, and that left me with a lot of time,” Ross said. “The goalie slid way out, so I figured I’d have the other side of the net if I just held onto it for a second longer.
Hanlon improved to 16-2-2 on the season by concentrating through long stretches of inactivity around her net.
“You just got to stay focused and keep watching the puck,” she said.
Hanlon made 14 saves compared to 40 for losing goaltender Brittany Kirkham.
Though the Gophers won the game on the ice, they suffered a much more costly loss away from the game. Team communications contact Michelle Traen’s mother was struck by an automobile and killed while taking a morning walk.
“It was a huge shock to us this morning,” Frost said. “Obviously the kids need to know about it and know why (Traen) is not here. We said a prayer for her and we’re certainly concerned for her and the rest of her siblings.”
It was the second time that tragedy has struck the team this season. Back in October, they lost former equipment manager Bonnie Olein to cancer.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to her,” Marvin said. “She has about thirty of us to lean on as well.”
Minnesota was down to just ten forwards for the game, because Kelli Blankenship missed her second straight game with a knee injury while Laura May was out with an illness.
“Not only the kids who weren’t playing, but we had some kids who were playing that are sick, too,” Frost said.
However, the Gophers had enough to get the job done.
“It was a good game for us,” Marvin said. “We had a couple of girls injured, a lot of us are sick, so I think it was a pretty good showing.”
Minnesota will try to wrap up the series in game 2 on Saturday.
“As long as we can keep up that energy, we should have a lot of success,” Ross said.
Minnesota’s Fast Start Blows Away North Dakota
Miller Hat Trick Is the Centerpiece of 9-goal Attack
The Gophers are not guaranteed another home game in 2007-2008. The right to host an NCAA quarterfinal game will likely be at stake along with a berth in the WCHA championship when Minnesota meets Wisconsin on Saturday in Duluth.
Should events dictate that this was the swan song for the senior class on their home ice, they went out with a bang.
“We were clicking tonight,” senior defenseman Anya Miller said in a bit of an understatement.
She paced the Gopher offense with three goals and an assist. Minnesota (27-5-4, 21-5-2 WCHA) exploded for six goals in the first period and cruised to a 9-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux (4-26-6, 4-20-4 WCHA).
“I’m just really happy with the way the team played and couldn’t have asked for more for our last game – if this is our last game [at Ridder],” Miller said. “Hopefully, it won’t be.”
For the second straight weekend, the Gophers started a game with an unconventional line up featuring all five seniors, four of whom are normally forwards. This time, it served not only to honor the seniors, but also to ignite the offense. Miller’s shot from the point snuck through the goalie and slid over the line just 11 seconds into the game.
“Obviously if we could draw it up and start that way every game we would,” coach Brad Frost said. “It was special with our five seniors on the ice.”
Twelve of the seventeen Minnesota skaters who played had at least a point. Brittany Francis, Emily West, and Gigi Marvin each had a goal and an assist.
Freshman Terra Rasmussen scored for the first time as a Gopher. She fired a shot from the high slot that found twine to make it 4-0.
“At first, I didn’t believe it went in to be honest,” she said.
As happy as Rasmussen was, teammates like Marvin may have been even happier.
“Gigi usually opens the door – has the door open for us, but she almost jumped over the boards to go get the puck,” Rasmussen said.
Hopefully, it will be the first of many such souvenirs for the Coon Rapids wing.
“Once you get one in you get confidence,” she said.
Although Marvin reached the 50-point mark for the season, the success of the team has been predicated on contributions from the entire roster.
“That’s been a trademark for us all year, others stepping up and producing some goals for us,” Frost said.
On this night, nobody produced more than Miller.
“Sometimes you get lucky and shots just go in,” she said. “Any other night, those shots might never go in.”
Of late, they’ve gone in with greater frequency for the Elk River native, who now has 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 points on the season.
“Defensively I think she’s one of the best, and this year, her offensive production has just shot through the roof,” Frost said. “It was something that we knew she had in her, but she never really embraced. Having some success early offensively has really sparked her offensive production.”
Jenelle Philipczyk also had a memorable night. She played in her 153rd game as a Gopher, surpassing the record of 152 held by Allie Sanchez.
Kim Hanlon made 16 saves in picking up her fourth shutout of the season. It was the team’s first since December, when they had four in a row.
Having advanced through the WCHA quarterfinal series in two games, the Gophers can turn their attention to the Wisconsin Badgers, a frequent obstacle to postseason success.
“We can’t win a conference championship if we don’t win that first one,” Frost said. “That’s certainly going to be our focus.”
Rasmussen said, “If we win, we should be at home (for the NCAA quarterfinals the following weekend.) We’d love to have another home game at Ridder; it’s the best place to play.”