MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota scored three times in less than two minutes early in the opener of its series with Ohio State, and that trio of goals proved to be the difference in a 4-1 victory for the home team.
Said Brad Frost, coach of the Gophers (16-3-0, 10-3-0 WCHA), “The quick start paid dividends. We always like to try and start as quickly as we can. We did a really good job of jumping on them early and then just sustaining some pressure.”
Minnesota put a shot off the pipe in the game’s opening seconds, but was unable to capitalize until a penalty was assessed on the Buckeyes (9-6-2, 6-6-1 WCHA) three minutes later. Rookie defenseman Rachel Ramsey fired a shot in transition that eluded OSU goaltender Lisa Steffes with only two seconds remaining on the power play. Anne Schleper had the assist, her 99th point at Minnesota.
Two more freshmen combined to double the Gophers’ lead 26 seconds later, as Rachel Bona buried the rebound of a Meghan Lorence shot. The margin grew to 3-0 in another minute plus, as Emily West crashed the net and the puck bounced in off an Ohio State defender just before the goal was dislodged.
“Last weekend against North Dakota, we saw both situations, where we did and we didn’t, and I think that obviously a quick start is one of our keys to success,” West said. “Just going out tonight and scoring a quick goal was huge.”
The only additional scoring came in the second period, with Amanda Kessel tallying for the Gophers and frosh wing Danielle Gagne answering for the Buckeyes.
“She’s been a goal scorer her whole career, right from when she young, and so when she gets her chances, she’s pretty good in those areas,” Ohio State coach Nate Handrahan said of Gagne.
Her snipe just under the crossbar was the only shot to get by Noora Räty, who made 27 saves in improving to 14-3 on the season.
“She’s a world-class goaltender for a reason,” Handrahan said. “She made a lot of key stops for them. I think a lot of times with goaltenders, it’s the timing of stops as well, and she has got a certain flair for timing as well.”
The Gophers juggled their lines, switching seniors Sarah Erickson and West in an attempt to obtain more balanced scoring, and then promoting Bona when an early injury knocked wing Kelly Terry from the game.
“Terry got hit in that first shift and just wasn’t able to return, so she’s getting evaluated,” Frost said. “It is what it is. The good thing is the depth that we have, just able to put some more people in there and get them some more experience and opportunity.”
At this point of the season, skating shifts with new linemates can generate some life.
“We tried some new stuff and it seems to be working,” West said of skating with Kessel and fellow fifth-year senior Jen Schoullis, each of whom assisted on her goal. “Whoever you’re put out with, you have to play. Hopefully, they get along with you as far as on ice and stuff, and so far, it’s working.”
Steffes finished with 28 saves in OSU’s net.
“Their goaltender made some great saves, as did ours,” Frost said. “I thought Noora might have had one of her better games of the whole year there tonight. We started getting a little lax on our ‘D’ zone and our back pressure that’s been pretty strong for us the majority of the year. Tonight we had some breakdowns, and Noora was there to answer the bell, but with one game remaining here in the first half, really happy with the three points, and hope to start quickly and maintain that pace all day tomorrow.”
His counterpart on the visiting bench also found areas where he hopes to see his team improve.
“I was pleased with how we played for about 50 minutes of the game,” Handrahan said. “I think that the first five, we kind of sat back on our heels, and certainly, they’re a good hockey team and came out and played hard right out of the gate. And can’t take penalties late in the game and expect to come back.”
The puck drops at 2:07 Sunday in Ridder Arena for the final game before Christmas break for each team.
“We have to be able to start and play smart road hockey,” Handrahan said. “Teams in this league, they come out and they will throw a storm at you early, and you’ve got to be ready to weather it. We weren’t ready to do that tonight, and I’m confident we will tomorrow.”