ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Amanda Kessel is back.
After a January in which she only had eight points in eight games, low by her standards, Kessel’s February got off to a much quicker start as she rattled off six points in an 8-1 Minnesota win over St. Cloud State on Friday night.
“It’s that mid to end season where everyone kind of wants to get to playoffs, but we have to finish out the season strong,” Kessel said. “Maybe it was shaking up the lines that did it. I think this weekend, we finally started turning it around, so it was good for us.”
The Gophers (23-4-2, 17-4-2-1 WCHA) spotted the Huskies (5-22-2, 4-19-0-0 WCHA) a 1-0 lead 52 seconds into the game, then responded with three quick goals of their own.
“I didn’t sense too much negative energy, which was good,” Kessel said. “We just kind of stayed on our toes and got one back quickly.”
Anne Schleper, a St. Cloud native, had Minnesota’s second goal that proved to be the game winner at 2:37 of the first period and also three assists for a four-point game.
“I just feed off that energy,” Schleper said of playing in her hometown. “I try to keep it at a steady pace, not too high, not too low kind of thing. Yeah, it was fun coming back home.”
Before the first period was over, the Gophers had built the lead to 5-1 with a pair of power-play goals during a major penalty for boarding.
“We certainly got some spark from our power play there early, and [I was] really happy with how we responded after giving up that one early,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Certainly, the big ice helps, and a little more time and space. I liked how all four of our goals were different and the kids read the play correctly and made the right play each time.”
The Minnesota power play finished with four goals on the night in nine opportunities.
“Just kind of panic mode,” Huskies coach Jeff Giesen said. “It was just basic rotation, it wasn’t anything they were doing. We just didn’t rotate the way we’ve been rotating all year.”
The Gophers’ scoring was led by senior Jen Schoullis and Kessel with two goals apiece and single tallies from Schleper, Sarah Erickson, Bethany Brausen and Rachel Bona.
Kessel and defenseman Megan Bozek each had four assists.
“I was excited to see how our team would respond after last weekend,” Frost said. “Even though we got two wins, I didn’t feel we played at all like we’re capable of. Just challenged the team to be better tonight and I thought they were.”
Alex Nelson gave the Huskies the quick start they wanted with her early goal on assists from Cari Coen and Julia Gilbert, but the hosts had little to cheer about from that point.
“You can’t relax against a team like this; they just come right back at you,” Giesen said. “We did some good things, we just don’t do enough good things for 60 minutes. We do some pockets of things and then we just go brain dead for other parts, and they end up in the back of the net.”
Though the Huskies have made strides, including climbing out of the WCHA basement, they are still vulnerable to the occasional one-sided result.
“I think that’s part of the young thing,” Giesen said. “We’ve got a freshman goalie, we’ve got a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing, and our juniors haven’t took that whole ‘I’m in charge’ leadership role yet. I think that’s what you get with some inexperience and some youth.”
The two teams wrap up their series on Saturday at the National Hockey Center.