MINNEAPOLIS — A 6-0 win for Minnesota over Minnesota State might appear quite comfortable. By the end it was.
But the game was still scoreless early in the second period when Maggie Fisher led a two-on-one break for MSU (11-21-4). The defender took away the pass, leaving Fisher alone with goalie Kim Hanlon. The freshman wing skated in and snapped off a shot labeled for the upper right corner of the net. Hanlon flashed her catching glove, and the Maverick’s best scoring chance with the outcome still in doubt was gone.
“She’s got a great glove,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “That was a huge save for us, because Maggie Fisher is a really great goal scorer. She does like to shoot high, and I think Kim has one of the best gloves I’ve seen.”
“It’s always a boost when you have a great defensive play, a great save,” said Minnesota senior defenseman Allie Sanchez. “It gives the team a little bit of jump going down to the other end.”
The third line for the Gophers (26-9-1) evidenced that jump on their next shift. After Becky Wacker rang one off the post to Laura Brennan’s left, Liz Palkie corralled the puck and connected for her first goal of the season.
“We were driving the net, getting it to the net, and I think it was maybe the second shot — I know it was a rebound,” Palkie said. “I just shot it as hard as I could, and I saw it go in, and so I was like, ‘Hey! There is one.’”
“If you look at the stats, we’ve only won about two games all year where we don’t score the first goal,” said coach Jeff Vizenor. “Minnesota has gone 21-2 when they score first. So the first goal is pivotal, and they got it.”
Minnesota got another goal from a source as unlikely as Marley Wournell. She didn’t skate a shift in the first period but bagged her second goal of the year.
“I yelled for [the puck], and [Andrea Nichols] gave it to me, and I put it right in — I picked the five hole,” Wournell said.
By the time Gigi Marvin fired in a power play goal from the slot at 18:34 of the second period to give the Gophers a 3-0 lead, the Mavericks’ hope of extending their season grew dim.
Anya Miller, Whitney Graft, and Erica McKenzie doubled their team’s margin in the third period, and Minnesota advanced with a 2-0 series win.
Hanlon stopped 18 shots for the sixth shutout of her rookie campaign.
“She’s playing well,” Vizenor said. “She’s playing with confidence. It looks like she’s seeing the puck well, and I think people are playing well in front of her, letting her see most every shot.”
Twelve of the 18 Minnesota skaters had at least a point in the game, with fifteen contributing to the scoring column over the course of the series. On Saturday, Marvin led the way with a goal and two assists, while Sanchez and Bobbi Ross each assisted twice.
“I was excited that six different people put the puck in the net today,” Halldorson said. “That says a lot about our team right now. We were three-for-six on the power play — we needed that to get our power play unit some confidence heading into the rest of the postseason. I think we’re playing well, and I’m excited about next weekend.”
Sanchez, a member of the Gophers’ top power play unit, which scored two of the goals, saw improvement in the specialty unit.
“Now that we’ve got set positions, a set power play and we’ve had time to practice it, it’s starting to work out,” she said.
Though the loss meant that Minnesota State’s injury-plagued season came to an end earlier than the players had hoped, they still saw some positives.
“It’s been a tough year, and it’s been challenging for our kids,” Vizenor said. “I’m proud of our players. We didn’t quit. There are a lot of different things our kids could have done — our locker room could have been divided, but they stuck together, and they cared about each other. It’ll help us in the future.”
For the team’s seniors, Saturday marked the end of their collegiate careers.
“We’re going to miss those kids,” said Vizenor. “Jen Jonsson and Amber Sharratt played a lot of minutes for us over the last four years. Those two kids have been the face of players that are part of our Maverick pride. They really are part of this program that we’ll never forget.”
Vizenor promised to be an interested observer as the WCHA tournament unfolds, with Minnesota meeting archrival Minnesota-Duluth in a semifinal next Saturday at Ridder Arena.
“I don’t think anyone is playing better than they are right now,” he said. They’re playing with confidence, their D is jumping into plays they’re playing outstanding right now. They’ve got everything in place at the right time. You’ve got a locker room full of kids who have won a couple of national championships. They are a tough team.”