MINNEAPOLIS — Over their four regular season meetings, neither Minnesota nor Minnesota State ever held a lead of more than one goal. Three of the games went into overtime.
Many expected more of the same in their best of three WCHA quarterfinal series. Instead, Minnesota (25-9-1) got its offense untracked in a 5-1 victory, scoring more goals against Britni Kehler than they totaled in her three regular season starts against them combined.
The Gophers got scoring from all three lines. Gigi Marvin and Becky Wacker each found the net twice, while Bobbi Ross added a goal.
“This goalie is great,” Marvin said. “Luckily, we got five in on her today.”
The first half of the game was to the liking of Minnesota State (11-20-4), as the Mavericks maintained a scoreless stalemate.
Marvin ignited the Gophers with a shorthanded goal at 11:02 of the second period for the 1-0 lead.
“We won the draw, and [Dagney Willey] pinned a girl,” Marvin said. “I yelled, ‘Poke it out!’ She did exactly that. I bumped it to [Erica McKenzie], and she dropped it back. I just skated, did a toe pull, and went upstairs. That’s what we’ve been practicing all week in practice — getting topshelf.”
“We did some things well in the first period, and we stuck to our gameplan,” said MSU coach Jeff Vizenor. “After they got that first shorty, we tried to press and tried to do more things than what we practiced all week and kind of played into their hands. When we start playing that up-tempo game, that obviously works into their favor more than ours.”
Less than two minutes later, Wacker banged in a rebound for the eventual game winner and a 2-0 lead. Ashley Albrecht’s long pass bounced over a Maverick stick and found Wacker behind the defense.
“I didn’t have enough of a head of steam to get by the two [defenders],” Wacker said. “[Krista Johnson] yelled for the puck, so I put it on her stick. She said she hit the goalie in the head — I don’t know if that’s true or not. So it was right there, and I had an empty net. Thank God I didn’t miss.”
MSU got back into the game with a power play goal in less than 30 seconds left in the second stanza, the first scored head-to-head by either team with the advantage this season. The Gophers survived 47 seconds of a Mankato 5-on-3, but they were unable to clear the puck and change penalty killers. The Mavericks capitalized, as Andrea Herold tipped a Kristina Bunker pass by Kim Hanlon and inside the far post.
The Gophers third line pushed the margin back to two goals at 4:27 of the third period. Johnson fed the puck to Albrecht as she crashed the net. The senior defenseman got multiple shots away but couldn’t beat Kehler. She could not control the puck, and Wacker pounced.
“I got pinned against the boards and ended up behind the play,” Wacker said. “I was behind the net, and they forgot about me. The puck was sitting right there, and the goalie only had her leg between the puck and the net, so I pushed them both in.”
Wacker picked up an assist later in the period, setting up Ross while the Gophers were in the midst of a line change.
“[Liz] Palkie’s line, specifically Becky Wacker and the game she had, was huge for us tonight,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson.
“It’s nice to get points, but I’d much rather have a solid line where the coach can put us out in any situation and not worry about the other team scoring on us,” Wacker said.
Marvin completed the scoring at 14:32, roofing a bad-angle backhand.
“[Assistant coach Brad Frost] said to go top shelf once we circle the net,” said Marvin. “I don’t even remember thinking about it, I just did it.”
“It was certainly a close game for two periods,” Halldorson said. “I was happy to see us get those three goals in the third to open it up.”
Two periods earlier, the game had a completely different complexion. Minnesota flew out of the gate, but the Mavericks weathered the storm and slowly took over play. Hanlon stopped several point blank attempts to preserve the scoreless tie.
“The first period was pretty intense,” Hanlon said. “I thought we played strong, we just didn’t get a lot of chances. I had to make sure I kept the team in the game. I knew we’d come back in the second period.”
While giving credit to Hanlon’s play, Vizenor stressed that his team needs to bury the puck given the opportunity. Taking advantage becomes even more critical given his teams short bench, due to injuries.
“I think our legs were fine,” Vizenor said. “I think we got away from doing what we were supposed to be doing — that’s when we got more tired.”
“[We need to] look at how well we played in the first period,” said Maverick senior captain Jen Jonsson. “I think we’re strong with the numbers we have.”
For many of the players, including Hanlon, the game was their first postseason experience at the collegiate level.
When asked if the intensity was higher than during the regular season, Hanlon said, “Definitely you could tell it was a lot higher.”
The series continues with game 2 at 4:07 Saturday at Ridder Arena.