MINNEAPOLIS — Where will the Minnesota goals come from with Natalie Darwitz, Krissy Wendell, and Kelly Stephens gone? That question has been asked often over the last several months, both by supporters of the Gopher hockey team, and also by its critics.
If the 3-0 final of tonight’s opener is indicative of the rest of the season, Minnesota (1-0-0) might not need to score many to be a factor in the championship picture.
Freshman center Gigi Marvin scored the first goal of the game, the season, and her Minnesota career on a first period power play. Stationed in the same circle from which Darwitz once quarterbacked the Gopher power play, she took a pass from classmate Melanie Gagnon, surveyed the situation, and buried a low drive past senior Kaitlyn Shain of Connecticut (0-1-0).
“The top player was going around me, and the bottom player collapsed, so I had a shot and took it,” Marvin said.
Brittony Chartier made sure that any offense would be enough. The rookie goaltender turned away all 18 shots that reached her net. Afterward, she deflected the praise for her effort with the same ease, instead crediting her teammates. Minnesota blocked 14 of the 36 attempts by the Huskies.
UConn struggled to counter the Minnesota speed in the first period, while being outshot 14-3.
“We had a lot of opportunities (to score) we had a lot of pressure,” said Gopher captain Andrea Nichols.
Seven of the nine penalties assessed went against Minnesota. Buoyed by their power play chances and the efforts of Shain, who finished with 40 saves, Connecticut began to gain some momentum. Their deficit remained at a single goal into the third period.
When Erika McKenzie rang a close range shot off of the crossbar, and later Gagnon got the gate for tripping, a Husky comeback appeared imminent. But Minnesota killed off the penalty, and 26 seconds later a Nichols wraparound attempt found its way between Shain’s pads for a 2-0 lead.
Minnesota set an NCAA record with 19 short-handed goals last year, and Erika McKenzie notched the first of the new campaign with 2:32 remaining to seal the win. Senior defenseman Allie Sanchez, who also assisted on Nichols’ goal, sent McKenzie in alone, and the sophomore wing found an opening on the far side.
“We’re happy that Brittony was able to get her shutout, Gigi scored in her first game, and Nic and Erika put the puck in the net for us and pulled it out,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “That was a good team we played tonight.”
The Gophers responded with a team effort. Their third line had more shots on goal than either of the top two units.
“All the lines created some offensive chances,” Halldorson said.
The most memorable scoring chances where those created by Marvin. Though she was recognized by Let’s Play Hockey as the top high school player in Minnesota last year, the Warroad native arrived on campus with a lower profile than most players of her caliber.
“She was up in Warroad and a lot of people didn’t get a chance to see her play,” her new coach said.
Hopefully, they will now, although only 952 were in attendance on this night, as three banners were hung in the rafters commemorating last season’s championships.
“I was excited,” Marvin said of her first game. “I was excited to play for the Gophers.”
If Minnesota continues to get timely goals, as it did from the last three winners of Ms. Hockey in the state on Friday, there might be many reasons to be excited in Ridder Arena.