DULUTH, Minn. — Noora Räty put an exclamation mark on her first win in Duluth, tying the Minnesota record for career shutouts in the process with 21.
“To tie it in two and a half years is something that speaks volumes to her talent, and her ability is I think pretty special,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “For her to get it against Duluth is pretty special; it’s not like it was against a creampuff or anything like that. Quite frankly, she could have had the record a long time ago if she wasn’t so selfless in allowing our backup to get some time.”
The junior from Espoo, Finland agreed on the importance of tying the mark established by Erica Killewald in 2001.
“The last two years, I haven’t won even one game here, but this is the first one, so it feels special,” Räty said.
After being held off the score sheet for two straight games for the first time this season, the first line for Minnesota (19-4-1, 13-4-1-0 WCHA), centered by Jen Schoullis, came through with three goals and four assists to provide all of the game’s offense.
“When our top line is going, we’re going to go as a team,” Frost said. “I thought all three of our lines contributed, maybe not on the scoreboard, but certainly in other ways.”
Sarah Erickson struck first for Minnesota at 16:43 of the first period. Amanda Kessel forced a Bulldogs’ turnover that left the senior captain alone in front of Jennifer Harss, and Erickson shifted the puck to her forehand and chipped it by the goalie for her 10th goal of the season. Erickson agreed that earlier in her career, she may have not shown as much patience and would have immediately released a backhand.
“Apparently I’ve learned something over the four years,” she said. “I knew I had to be more patient. I knew she’d be coming across, and I didn’t have much time or much strength to get a wimpy backhand, so I just pulled it to my forehand. I didn’t get all of it, actually, but I tried to get everything that I could, and fortunately, it went in.”
The Gophers expanded the lead to two goals 24 seconds into the middle period. Schoullis sent Kessel in alone, and the sophomore wing converted.
The hosts slumped a bit for the rest of the period, winding up on the short end of the shots by a 15-6 count.
“I thought we had a decent first period, and just an embarrassing second period,” UMD coach Shannon Miller said.
The Minnesota top line increased the score to 3-0 on a power play at 18:12 of the second, with Erickson banging in her second goal of the game and both Kessel and Schoullis assisting.
“That’s what this series is all about, making sure that we’re capitalizing on our power plays,” Erickson said.
Kessel led the way for Minnesota with a goal and two assists, Erickson had two goals, and Schoullis tallied two assists.
The Bulldogs (12-9-1, 9-8-1-1 WCHA) built a 16-6 advantage in shots on goal in the final period, generating 10 of those shots on the power play, but were unable to solve Räty.
“She’s very good,” Miller said. “We had some good chances against her, obviously, and we couldn’t bury them; we had some very good chances. But yeah, she is really good. She’s got to be one of the best in the country.”
Minnesota needed her to play like it Saturday, after the team collectively faltered in the series opener.
“It was probably our worst game of the season yesterday,” Räty said. “Everyone was pretty upset after the game yesterday, and we decided as a team that’s unacceptable and we have to play better today.”
Räty certainly did her part, stopping all 29 shots that she saw.
“You look at her stats, and it is absolutely phenomenal,” Erickson said. “She’s blown up every goalie stat that there is here, and in the WCHA, and in the nation. I don’t think we always give her enough credit.”
Despite Saturday’s loss, UMD got what it needed out of the weekend to improve its national playoff prospects with a split.
“We just have to get better,” Miller said. “We have to listen, we have to work, and just get better at little things, and just chip away at it, and work our way in. And we will.”
The Bulldogs head to Madison to try to exact some vengeance on defending champion Wisconsin, the team that eliminated UMD in an NCAA quarterfinal last season and swept the teams’ first series in Duluth.
Minnesota returns home to host Bemidji State in a meeting of two of the WCHA’s top goaltenders, the Beavers’ Zuzana Tomcikova and Räty.