MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Through much of the game, visiting St. Cloud State played No. 1 Minnesota even while the teams were at full strength. When a Husky skated to the penalty box, her team had little answer for the host’s power play.
The Gophers (3-0) converted four times with the advantage on their way to a 7-1 victory.
“It was a good night tonight, starting off with the banner lowering there,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said.
Three of last year’s seniors were on hand to unfurl the 2012 NCAA Championship banner before the opening faceoff.
“We’ve seen that video a ton, but every time, it’s awesome to watch,” Amanda Kessel said. “It’s something that I’ll never forget, but we’ve got a new season to focus on.”
Kessel, looking more and more like her old self, led the Minnesota offense with two goals and two assists, while Hannah Brandt had a goal and three assists and Megan Bozek added a goal with two helpers.
“It’s nice to get in there more, and just building up my confidence coming off an injury and a little out of shape,” Kessel said. “All that started to come back as I played more.”
The Huskies (0-1) did well early for seeing their first action of the season, while Minnesota already had a couple of games to get up to speed.
“You just can’t replicate the pace of a game in practice,” said St. Cloud coach Jeff Giesen. “There are a lot of positives. It was a special teams game; we’re zero-for=six on the power play and they’re four-for-seven. That’s a big chunk of it right there.”
The Minnesota power play was a perfect three-for-three in period one. Kessel found Maryanne Menefee alone for a backdoor tap in while skating five-on-three for the game’s first goal at 11:06.
Sarah Davis tallied her first goal of the season during the remaining penalty on the Huskies, finding a loose puck in the crease and putting it away; Kelly Terry and Mira Jalosuo assisted.
At 15:18 Kessel made it 3-0, skating to the low slot and beating Julie Friend with a wrist shot as Brandt and Bozek had the helpers.
Despite playing three freshmen with Kessel and Bozek on the top power play, the unit looked very efficient for so early in the season.
“We’ve got skilled players out there and smart ones,” Kessel said. “We’re moving the puck around good, and I think we’re just going to continue to get better.”
It was a rare night where both coaches were happy for the most part.
“Our kids were pretty fired up; they’ve got a lot of energy,” Giesen said. “I like our team. It’s a long year, and sometimes you can’t control your schedule and how you have to start. It would have been nice to have a different kind of game.”
Still, the Huskies tried to play aggressively, keeping Minnesota bottled up at times with a hard forecheck. Their efforts were rewarded at 13:49 of the second period when rookie Vanessa Spataro got her first collegiate goal on a rebound with Alex Nelson and Haylea Schmid assisting.
“We’ve got a lot of depth, and we’ve got a good mix right now,” Giesen said. “We’re finally old. The last couple years, we’ve had two small seniors classes. We finally got a big senior class and a good-sized junior class. We’re finally older and kids know what to expect now.”
Senior Becky Kortum scored her third goal of the season with less than four seconds left in the second period, surpassing her goal total of an injury-riddled junior campaign.
Perhaps the prettiest goal of the night was the final one of the game in the third period. After skating a shift on another line, Kessel was on her way to the bench to change as Brandt and Menefee transitioned into the zone.
“Both of those freshmen are great players for us — skilled, and see the ice well,” Kessel said. “I was thinking to myself I was out of gas and I was going to get off the ice. Hannah on the bench said, ‘I didn’t think you were coming.’ I said, ‘I didn’t either.’”
In the end, Kessel decided to join the two rookies and finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play.
Senior Noora Räty played the first two periods in the Minnesota net, stopping eight of nine shots to earn her second of the year, while rookie Amanda Leveille finished up by turning aside all five shots she faced.
Friend had 37 saves in a losing effort.
Although happy with the win, Frost didn’t like everything he saw.
“I thought at times we got out-competed a little bit and out-muscled, but tonight, our skill difference over them proved to be the difference maker,” he said. “We’ll watch some video, and hopefully, be a little better tomorrow.”
No major changes are planned on the other bench.
“We’ve just got to compete and see if we can play two in a row at a high tempo,” Giesen said.