By Drew Lyon
Special to The Free Press
MANKATO — Trailing 1-0 early in the second period of their game against the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota State women’s hockey squad had a prime opportunity to even the score. Within a span of five seconds, the Golden Gophers committed two penalties, lending the Mavericks a 5-on-3 advantage for nearly two minutes against the defending national champions.
“When you’ve got a 5-on-3 for almost two minutes, you’ve got to score,” MSU coach Eric Means said.
MSU had a bevy of up-close chances, but Noora Raty stopped all five of their power-play shots. Shortly after the penalty kill, the Gophers’ Hannah Brandt scored the first of her two goals, en route to a 6-0 shutout Saturday in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game at All Seasons Arena. It was the Gophers’ 16th straight win against MSU.
“We had some good looks,” Means said. “It’s almost more frustrating when you get good looks and don’t score, as opposed to fumbling it around. For all intensive purposes, that pretty much ended the game. It’s such an emotional swing from an opportunity to tie or go ahead, and then all of the sudden we’re down 2-0.”
The Mavericks came out strong in the opening period against the Gophers (24-0, 18-0 in WCHA) with five early shots on goal. The Mavericks killed an early penalty, but after a Lauren Smith tripping penalty, Minnesota’s Milica McMillen scored on a one-timer that found a crease through goalie Danielle Butters’ padding.
“We had a good start,” Means said. “Unfortunately, we took back-to-back penalties, and that hurt us. Early on, (Butters) made some really good saves, and you’re going to need good goaltending to beat this team.”
After surviving the 5-on-3 penalty kill, the Gophers put the game out of reach, scoring three goals in the second period, including two assists by Amanda Kessel, giving her 200 points for her career. Kessel is only the ninth player in NCAA history to reach the 200-point mark by her junior year.
“They have a lot of talent,” said MSU center captain Kari Lundberg, “but we can’t put them on too much of a pedestal. We had them on the ropes there for a bit in the second period, but their goalie is really talented and experienced. We should’ve been able to capitalize.”
In the third period, Minnesota added two goals, while the Mavericks again couldn’t score on a power play.
“We had spurts where things were working,” Lundberg said. “We just gave them soft scores. I think as long as we”re mentally there, we can beat any other team.”
Minnesota outshot the Mavericks 47-26, and outscored MSU 14-1 in the weekend series, extending their NCAA-record winning streak to 32 games.
“I just told our team, ‘No one’s beaten them,’” Means said. “It’s not like we got beat by a team that hasn’t won already; it’s not like they came in playing .500 hockey. I was proud of their effort. That effort’s good enough to win on a lot of nights in this league, just not against Minnesota right now.”
The Mavericks (9-14-3, 5-12-3 WCHA) resume their schedule Feb. 1 at home against North Dakota.
“It’s going to be a work week,” Lundberg said. “We have some things to work on and tweak, but if we give that effort we gave today and add a few goals, anything’s possible.”