MINNEAPOLIS — For much of the first half of the season, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have been searching for consistent line combinations up front. If the past couple of games are telling, they may have finally found them, having scored six goals in back-to-back games.
“When things are going well, the chemistry seems to be great,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said, indicating that the true test of the current configuration will come when his team faces greater adversity.
Minnesota (12-6-0, 7-6-0 WCHA) grabbed a lead on Sarah Erickson’s tip before the halfway point of the opening period and steadily pulled away from the visiting Buckeyes of The Ohio State University. Five Gophers scored, Jen Schoullis collected two tallies, Amanda Kessel picked up four primary assists, and goalie Noora Räty turned away all 28 shots put on goal by the No. 10 Buckeyes (8-7-2, 4-7-2 WCHA).
Kessel, joining Erickson as wings on a line centered by Schoullis, was in the middle of many an offensive thrusts.
“That’s what we were talking about on the bench; that was the best we’ve played together so far, and we’ve just got to keep it up,” Kessel said. “We thought it was coming from our hard work. Before, we weren’t working as hard, and now that we’re giving our all, things are coming.”
In addition to Schoullis and Erickson, Minnesota also got goals from Kelly Terry, Becky Kortum, and Anne Schleper.
Terry’s goal was Minnesota’s first short-handed score of the season.
“I was just coming off the bench,” she said. “We hadn’t really set up any penalty kill yet after the change, and it was one of those lucky breaks where it just squirted out. I knew that if I got on my horse and tried to beat that defense, I’d have a good shot at it.”
Frost agreed that the goal, which put Minnesota up 2-0 late in the first period, was pivotal.
“Especially against their power play, because it’s really, really good, and our kill again just did a phenomenal job on it. I was happy to see Kelly Terry with the puck, because it looked like she was going to get caught, and she just put it in kind of another gear.”
Although it looked like a fairly even game early on — Ohio State was outshooting Minnesota 12-11 at the first intermission — Buckeyes coach Jackie Barto said Minnesota was better at doing the little things throughout. For her charges to be successful in Saturday’s rematch, she said they have to be better at the basic elements of their game, such as passing and skating.
Their lack of success in Friday’s contest can partially be traced to the play of Räty.
Frost said of his talented sophomore, “She’ll make big saves, and our bench is, ‘Oh, that was a nice save.’ It was actually a great save, but she makes it look so easy, and they’re just so used to her making those saves.”
Lisa Steffes also finished with 28 stops in her first visit to Ridder Arena for the Buckeyes.
A snowstorm is forecast, but weather permitting, the puck drops on game two at 2:07 p.m.