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College Hockey:
Kessel hat trick, two West goals give Minnesota sweep of St. Cloud State

— The familiar names were back in force as Minnesota shutout St. Cloud State and advanced in the WCHA tournament. Amanda Kessel netted a hat trick, the fourth of her sophomore season, and senior Emily West found the net twice in a 6-0 win for the Gophers (29-5-2, 21-5-2 WCHA).

“Some scoring from our top kids, and getting them back on track going into the weekend,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said.

A couple of seniors led the way in the assist depart, as Jen Schoullis had three and Kelly Seeler contributed two.

Kessel’s three points give her 71 on the season, matching Jenny (Schmidgall) Potter’s total from 1998-99 for the seventh most in program history.

The Huskies (5-29-2, 4-24-0 WCHA) started a little better than they did on Friday night when they fell behind in the first two minutes, but by the first intermission, they were in the same predicament.

Minnesota scored first on a power play when West took a touch pass from Kelly Terry as she entered the zone and beat the glove of Julie Friend on the far side. Rachel Ramsey had the second assist on the goal at the eight minute mark.

“St. Cloud had aggressive ‘D’ there on the blue [line], and I think the little chips were working as far as just trying to catch them out of position,” West said.

The lead grew to two when Kessel found the top of the net at 12:23; Rachael Bona and Seeler assisted.

West combined with linemate Sarah Erickson to make it 3-0 before the end of the first period, in which Minnesota enjoyed a 21-2 edge in shots on goal.

“That was the same as yesterday, when we spot them three there,” Huskies coach Jeff Giesen said. “The second period was actually how we wanted to play the whole game. Nothing happened, it was boring to watch, it was nothing going on, and that’s how we would have liked to play the first.”

The Huskies played a better second stanza, still being out shot 9-3, but holding Minnesota off of the scoreboard.

“St. Cloud played hard and really bottled us up there in the second period,” Frost said.

Kessel got her second of the game while shorthanded when Schoullis sent her off on a partial break, and the speedster ripped a slap shot into the top of the cage 6:57 into the final period. Kessel said she wasn’t necessarily focused on shooting high.

“That’s just what I saw in all of them,” Kessel said.

Kessel spotted a small opening six minutes later and roofed another puck to make the score 5-0 and bring on the hats.

“She’s pretty skilled,” Giesen said. “There’s not may goalies in the league that are going to stop any of the shots she had tonight. She just sniped.”

Rookie Meghan Lorence completed the scoring at 6-0 in the final two minutes. Of the 17 Minnesota skaters that dressed on the weekend, 16 had at least one point. That was due in part to far fewer penalties assessed to both teams than in the previous series with North Dakota.

“Everyone gets to play more in these kind of games,” Kessel said. “We were able to roll four lines this weekend almost regularly. I think it’s a little more fun for everyone when we’re rolling in shorter shifts.”

The Gophers did well in their own end, only allowing SCSU one goal and 35 shots on goal in six periods of hockey on the weekend.

“No matter what team we’re playing, we know that we’ve got tougher competitors next weekend,” Kessel said. “We’ve still got to stay spiffy on our defensive zone against these teams.”

Noora Räty stopped all 15 shots on net to earn her eighth shutout of the season and the 24th of her career. Giesen blamed his team’s decision making for limiting their shots.

“We were just trying to make a cute play entering the zone rather than just putting the puck on net,” he said. “She was giving up some rebounds a couple times. That’s where I think their ‘D’ come into play; we weren’t getting through. We just weren’t putting enough pucks on net to start with.”

Friend made 41 saves for the Huskies while allowing five of the six goals scored by the Gophers.

SCSU sees its season end in the league quarterfinals for the fourth straight year.

“We’ve got to get stronger,” Giesen said. “When we play a team like this, our age shows, because we’re only graduating three, we’re pretty much a young team. You just can’t get kids stronger overnight. Coming out of high school, they’ve got to have a year, year and a half in the weight room with a college strength coach to really get that.”

Minnesota turns its attention to the WCHA Final Face-Off in Duluth, where the Gophers will oppose North Dakota in one semifinal while Minnesota-Duluth hosts Wisconsin in the other.

“Obviously, they’re a great club and they work hard,” West said. “We just need to be composed as far as staying out of the box, and if we can get them in there, I think that’s going to be a huge thing. It’s going to be a great game, there’s going to be a lot of emotion, as always against them, so I think it’s just going to be great hockey.”

No matter what happens next weekend, Minnesota knows it will be playing in the NCAA tournament as well.

“I’ve been feeling good about our team for the last month and a half, and just the way they’ve come together,” Frost said. “We don’t talk about it a lot; this team has been through a lot this year. Now the injury to Becky Kortum is just another thing that we have to overcome. We talk about being a family and coming together at the right time, and not all teams come together when they go through adversity, but this team has.”

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