MINNEAPOLIS — St. Lawrence came into the season as the logical choice to reign supreme in March, and the Saints did nothing to dispel that notion in their season-opening 3-1 road dismantling of defending champion Minnesota.
Freshman Alison Domenico scored the first two goals and assisted on the third for the Saints (1-0-0). Linemate Emilie Berlinguette added the final tally, while Bobbi Ross had the lone answer for the Gophers (1-1-0).
“They’re two-time defending champions, we’re coming into their barn, and it’s an honor to play a team of this stature with what this team has done,” said Saints coach Paul Flanagan.
“You talk about that in the locker room build on one shift and build on another,” he said. “I thought we sustained that pretty well.”
St. Lawrence came out of the gate more aggressively, carrying the play. That energy resulted into early penalty trouble, to the tune of the game’s first four whistles. But the Saints survived Minnesota’s ragged attempts on the power play, including more than a minute of 5-on-3, and took advantage when the penalty calls went the other way.
Domenico banged home a rebound for her first collegiate goal during a 4-on-3 advantage. Chelsea Grills and Annie Guay earned the assists for the first of two Saints power play goals in five attempts.
“I just go out there and try to put the puck in the net,” Domenico said.
She succeeded in doing that again at 15:30 of the second period. She kept after a puck that Minnesota goalie Brittony Chartier was attempting to cover, and Chartier wound up in the net along with the puck.
“I just tried to get the puck and get it into the net, because it way lying right there,” Domenico said. “It was a great opportunity and I was glad I could capitalize on it.”
Flanagan liked what he saw, especially in the middle stanza, when the Saints enjoyed a lopsided 20-2 margin in shots on goal.
“The second period was a dominating performance – just real methodical, the way we got our forecheck going,” he said. “When we did give up a chance, we were right there for the rebound.”
Despite that domination, Minnesota appeared ready to crawl back into the game when Ross found the net with less than three minutes remaining in the middle session. Junior captain Andrea Nichols noted that the Saints had pressured the points aggressively on earlier penalty kills, and the Gophers planned to counter that by working the puck down low. The Saints left Ross, the only remaining member of Minnesota’s formidable power play unit of a year ago, alone on the doorstep and she quickly converted.
Berlinguette thwarted the hosts’ hopes of carrying that momentum into intermission. While stationed on the goal line extended, the senior snuck a shot through a defenseman and between Chartier and the post for a power play goal with just five seconds left in the period.
“It was great to see her score that big goal that we really needed,” Domenico said. “It gave us a lot of confidence.”
The Gophers failed to generate enough offense in the third period to get another puck past Jessica Moffat. The senior goalie saved 15 shots to earn the win.
“I think the key is to play at a higher speed, make decisions quicker, move our feet, anticipate a second earlier,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “I think we were just a step slow in everything.”
As she well knows, top-ranked teams tend to make their opponents feel that way.
“I thought we bottled them up pretty well in the neutral zone,” Flanagan said. “[Minnesota] is a team that likes to run and gun, that’s the arsenal that they’ve got, and I thought we neutralized that pretty well and did a really good job.”
The silver lining for the defending champs is that it is very early in the season, and there will be ups and downs along the way for everyone.
“We have a lot of things to look at on tape,” Halldorson said. “We’re going to see teams like this down the road, and we have to be prepared.”
Domenico liked her first taste of the college game.
“I just tried not to let the nerves get to me,” she said. “It’s kind of overwhelming.”
In the future, her opponents better be nervous that she might overwhelm them.