ST. CLOUD, Minn. — St. Cloud State produced a much better effort in the second contest of its series with Minnesota, but still wound up losing by seven goals, 7-0, after falling 8-1 in Friday’s opener.
“A great weekend overall for our team,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “I’m really happy with the efforts, the attitudes, just the overall play and come togetherness, so to speak. I think this was a big weekend for us.”
Noora Räty gobbled up all 14 shots on goal for the Gophers (24-4-2, 18-4-2-1 WCHA) in recording the 22nd shutout of her Minnesota career, breaking the program record set by Erica Killewald in 2001.
“It’s nice to have the record,” Räty said. “If you look back at the school’s history, they’ve had many good goalies here, so it feels good. I couldn’t have done it without this team and these girls. It feels good; I have a little monkey off my shoulders.”
The newly-formed Minnesota line of sophomore center Sarah Davis between two senior wings led the way offensively, scoring the game’s first four goals in the first two periods. Left wing Emily West continued her strong 2012 with two goals and two assists, while Davis and Sarah Erickson each contributed a goal and a helper.
“I played with Sarah Erickson a few years back before I had knee surgery, with Brittany Francis as our wing there, so had a little chemistry there, kind of not too far off,” West said. “And then [Davis], been playing with her a little bit, just trying it out, and it seems to really work. We all click and like to have fun, which is the biggest part of it I think.”
Erickson supplied the first and game-winning goal at 12:20 of the first period, using her backhand to convert a setup from West on a two-on-one rush.
West said the trio was similar to Minnesota’s first line of two years ago when she and Erickson skated with former Gopher Francis, as Davis and Francis, in addition to both hailing from Canada, have similar styles.
“Davis has her own tendencies, too, which we’ve gotten used to this season,” West said. “She’s amazing at faceoffs, and all sorts of stuff, and you can just count on her. With Erickson at wing, you can really count on her to make the right plays, and it’s just easy; it’s simple.”
If the combination continues to have success, it will provide Minnesota with a nice complement to the Jen Schoullis line with Amanda Kessel on her wing.
“The great thing about them is they’re all mature kids,” Frost said of his new second line. “You can see them communicating on the ice; you can see them communicating when they get off the ice onto the bench. Whenever you can communicate like that, openly and honestly and in the right way, you gel a lot quicker than maybe more lines.”
Kelly Terry, Becky Kortum, and Kessel tacked on third-period tallies. Anne Schleper and Megan Bozek each had a pair of assists from the Minnesota blue line.
Julie Friend had 39 saves for the Huskies (5-23-2, 4-20-0-0 WCHA), including 19 of 20 in a strong first period.
“Their goaltender made some very good saves to keep it one-nothing,” Frost said.
The game started to slip away from the Huskies when Davis banged a rebound by Friend 49 seconds into the middle frame.
“Yesterday, [Friend] coughed up a lot of those rebounds,” St. Cloud State coach Jeff Giesen said. “Today in the first, she was holding on to them, then in the second, they started getting away from her again. Then, she’s going to have problems.”
After scoring in the opening minute Friday, SCSU was shut out for the rest of the series. Much of that on Saturday was due to the Minnesota defense, which limited the Huskies to seven shots through two periods.
“Yesterday, I kind of felt that we gave up too many shots and scoring chances,” Räty said. “Today, we played really sound defensively and probably best defensive effort this year.”
The team rose to the challenge of helping Raty get the record, rushing to congratulate her at the final horn.
“You see how happy she is in the locker room,” West said. “She doesn’t boast about it or anything like that, so it makes it even better to get that for her. It’s almost like an honor to be on a team with someone like that. I think this team just has the character that if someone is really close to getting a record, they push for that person, whether it’s a forward, defenseman, goalie, we all push for each other.”
The Huskies continue to improve, but gains are often slow in the competitive world of the sport.
“I think we’re making progress,” Giesen said. “We’re not where we want to be. You play a team like this, and you see your deficiencies of strength. You keep putting up hard numbers, but we’ve got people who need to build some strength. We’ve got some skill, but Abby Ness and Molly Mott are just tiny little things in a game like this.”
The two teams appear to be destined to meet in a WCHA quarterfinal series in three weeks, as Minnesota holds second place in the conference while SCSU is in the seventh spot. If the pairing results, it would occur on the NHL-sized rink of Minnesota’s Ridder Arena, rather than on the Olympic sheet of the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
“This is the one team that I would rather play at their rink, because they skate better than us and as well as us,” Giesen said. “We’ve outmatched some teams, because obviously we’re built to skate okay and speed, but these guys can go right with us. It’s almost like a relief for them to play on this rink.”