MINNEAPOLIS — Personnel losses from two championship teams and a shaky performance against St. Lawrence during the season’s first weekend seemed to indicate that Minnesota’s reign atop college hockey was over. Instead, the series at Mercyhurst and the opener versus Minnesota-Duluth have served notice that the two-time champs intend to be rigorous in the defense of their title.
Featuring a strong defense and a nearly impenetrable goaltender in frosh Brittony Chartier, the Gophers (6-1-0, 3-0-0 WCHA) figure to be hard to beat if they can muster three goals in a game. Last year’s WCHA Rookie of the Year Bobbi Ross saw to it that they’d have sufficient offense, notching a hat trick in just over 25 minutes.
“Just because the pucks go in doesn’t necessarily mean that game was a better game,” Ross said. “People were passing me the puck when I was standing in front of the net.”
Tallying three goals on as many shots belies the sophomore assistant captain’s modesty.
Her first goal came on the power play when she deflected an Anya Miller shot past UMD goalie Riitta Schaublin just 2:25 into the contest. Six minutes later, Whitney Graft found Ross alone in the slot and she snapped one under the crossbar.
“We had some people work really hard over the summer, and Whit Graft was one of those people,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “For somebody who didn’t get a lot of playing time last year, she really dedicated herself over the summer and has made a huge impact this season.”
The Bulldogs (5-2-0, 5-2-0 WCHA) still trailed by that 2-0 margin at the first intermission. Their coach, Shannon Miller, believed that first stanza to be her team’s downfall.
“When you play an opponent that’s your equal, you have to be there for every moment of the game,” she said. “You can give up one minute, and it can cost you the game. You can’t give up 20. The Gophers outplayed us badly in the first period.”
UMD emerged from the locker room with increased energy, and helped by a misplay by the Minnesota goalie, sliced the lead in half. The normally infallible Chartier attempted to play a long-range shot by Bulldog defenseman Jill Sales with her glove and her stick, and failed to connect with either.
“I know that Brittony Chartier would like to have that goal back,” Halldorson said. “But I said after the second period how proud I was of the way that we responded, because Bobbi got that goal a little over a minute later, and then Chartier stopped a breakaway. To me that shows that we bounce back and are responding very well.”
Ross grabbed the momentum back for her team when she took a pass from rookie linemate Marley Wournell and zipped it past Schaublin along the ice on the far side.
Wournell collected her first collegiate assist and paired it with her first goal, scoring into an empty net as the UMD goalie attempted to go to the bench for an extra attacker.
Chartier atoned for her miscue by stoning Noemie Marin on a shorthanded breakaway. The goaltender turned aside 31 shots on the night. UMD enjoyed a wide 22-9 margin in shots over the final 40 minutes, yet that resulted only in their deficit increasing by a goal over the same timeframe.
“She sees shots that I don’t even see, and I even sometimes have a better angle,” Anya Miller said of her netminder. “I don’t know how she does what she does.”
The sophomore defenseman also has big skates to fill, inheriting Lyndsay Wall’s role on the Gopher power play. She believes that she is gradually adjusting to the task.
“I’m not doing anything any better, but I definitely feel more comfortable,” she said. “Now I feel like I have more time and know what to do more.”
“I thought our team played hard, I thought we played well, and that’s a big win for us,” Halldorson said.
Her counterpart on UMD’s bench turned her attention to the rematch, saying, “I can’t even wait.”