MINNEAPOLIS — Both the Minnesota Gophers and the Ohio State University Buckeyes came into the opener of their quarterfinal WCHA series at Ridder Arena looking to get a fast start and the first goal. The Gophers (24-8-2, 18-8-2 WCHA) were the team whose wish came true, leading to a 4-2 victory.
“We figured we had to get them in the first period, get on this goalie, because in the past we’ve had close games if we don’t get on them in the first,” said Minnesota junior center Jen Schoullis, who provided two tallies.
“One of our big goals was to score the first goal and set the tone for the game in the first period,” Buckeyes coach Jackie Barto said. “We struggled with that a little bit. They got the first one less than three minutes into the game.”
With the Minnesota third line causing havoc in the slot in the offensive zone, the puck slid back to defenseman Kelly Seeler at center point, and her low drive found twine on the right side.
On a Gophers power play later in the first period, Anne Schleper fed Schoullis near the right post and she went backhand behind her back for a 2-0 Minnesota lead.
“I was actually recovering back to the net, because I’m a big screen in front on the power play,” Schoullis said. “I didn’t expect Schleper to pass it to me, and she did. I saw the goalie was out of her net and she was at the top of the crease, and there was a whole net open for me.”
Ohio State (14-18-3, 8-17-3 WCHA) saw the deficit double in the second period before they could get their offense started.
Sara Erickson took a pass from Amanda Kessel in front and chipped it by goalie Lisa Steffes.
“I was just trying to get my stick on it,” Erickson said. “I just stuck my stick out and it went in.”
Schoullis got her second when she tipped a Schlepper slap shot through the five-hole for another power-play tally at 11:29 of the middle period.
“‘Schlep’ is doing a good job of getting the shots through from the point,” Schoullis said. “They play pretty tight on the point, not only on special teams, but five-on-five too.”
From there, OSU’s Laura McIntosh took over the game’s offense. She scored twice on one shift, a tap in from the doorstep and then on a breakaway.
“They’re so dangerous,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “McIntosh is one of the most dangerous and creative kids in the country, (Natalie) Spooner is obviously fantastic, and (Hokey) Langan doesn’t miss those too often.”
Langan did miss a golden chance on Friday night, misfiring on a perfect feed from McIntosh while she was stationed all alone at the edge of the crease.
“Once you get a couple goals in, you can’t get down on yourself,” Erickson said. “You’ve got to keep pushing through, and I thought we did a really good job of staying positive and not letting those two goals get to us.”
The Buckeyes had one more glorious chance to carve into the Minnesota lead in the third period, but goalie Noora Räty robbed McIntosh while flat on the ice.
“She’s a good goalie, and we had a game plan of how we wanted to put goals by her, and I think we’re just going to stick with that,” Barto said. “We feel that we can create some rebounds.”
Räty had 24 saves in earning win number 23 of her sophomore campaign, while Steffes stopped 34 shots in defeat.
The Buckeyes will look to stave off elimination in Saturday’s second game and force game three on Sunday.
“We need to play 60; we need to have a better first period, but we’re confident that we can,” Barto said. “You’ve got to win two games. It doesn’t matter which two they are, you’ve just got to win two.”
Once again both teams want the same thing — a win in a very pivotal game two.
“We know that tomorrow is not going to be easy,” Frost said. “It’s not easy to eliminate a team and their season. But I think we’ll be ready. I’m proud of our kids and the way they battled and competed. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was a pretty good game.”