MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Minnesota may have a number of different recipes for success, but the Gophers tend to favor a few that have proven reliable.
On Sunday, No. 2 Minnesota (17-3-0, 11-3-0 WCHA) scored first, got a goal and an assist from each of its top three scorers, and strong goaltending from Noora Räty as it completed the 2011 portion of its schedule with a 3-1 triumph versus Ohio State (9-7-2, 6-7-1 WCHA).
“It’s been a long, but successful, first part of the season,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Our players and coaches are seeing each other every day for three months. I think we’re all ready for a break, a healthy break, and to come back even better than we were in the first half here. Tonight’s game was just a grind. It was a classic WCHA game where both teams had their chances.”
The Gophers improved to 15-0 when tallying the game’s first goal. Megan Bozek did the honors at 6:06 of the first period, drilling home a slap shot with traffic in front of Buckeyes goaltender Lisa Steffes. Bozek now has nine goals and 20 points, tops for all blue liners in both categories.
“I think anyone that went in the slot would have had a good opportunity and [Amanda] Kessel made a good, heads-up play,” Bozek said.
Jen Schoullis potted what proved to be the game winner less than two minutes into the second frame, taking advantage of a faulty OSU line change and firing a shot by Steffes.
“I was screaming for it and [Emily West] got the puck to the middle of the ice and it was a nice feed,” Schoullis said. “We should score on breakaways, so I got lucky there. Just saw an opening blocker side and put it there.”
“We had a center come off the ice, we had a freshman ‘D’ come off the ice, we had the other ‘D’ pivot outside the dots and opened up the floodgates going to the net,” Ohio State coach Nate Handrahan said. “We’re in the middle of the season and we’ve got to be better in those areas.”
Kessel sealed the victory in the final minute with the Buckeyes’ net empty, chipping the puck up the boards and winning races first to the puck and then to the net front to slide it home.
Senior Laura McIntosh had the lone Ohio State conversion, banging home a goal-mouth pass from Natalie Spooner while the teams were skating four-on-four at 13:01 of the second period. The Buckeyes’ captain also had several other prime scoring chances that wound up on Räty’s list of 19 saves on the day.
Overall, Handrahan thought his team played better than it had the previous day.
“We competed and battled for a complete game, did a lot of things and played the way we needed to play, but again, they’ve got a good team in the other locker room over there,” he said. “They came out and executed their game plan and we just didn’t get it done. We certainly had our opportunities. We’re still disappointed that we didn’t get out of here with at least one win.”
Steffes turned aside 30 of the 32 shots that she faced.
“It was nice to have a game like that, to find a way to win a close game by one goal and then empty net at the end,” Schoullis said. “It was a good experience.”
The win solidifies Minnesota’s second-place standing in the WCHA race ahead of North Dakota, as UND settled for a split with Minnesota-Duluth.
“Ohio State is a very good team with some very good players,” Frost said. “We gave up some chances and again, Noora was there and did a fantastic job.”
The final Minnesota action of 2011 brought out a crowd of 1,207 fans.
“Everyone can use a break,” Bozek said. “Go home with family, friends, spend the holidays. But I think we know what we have to do since we’re playing the No. 1 team in the country right when we come back.”
The Buckeyes, tied with UMD for fourth in the WCHA at the halfway point, still have work to do before the calendar turns over.
“Princeton we’ve got on the the 30th and 31st at home,” Handrahan said. “We just talked about how important this break is to take the next step.”