On a weekend when little went according to form in the WCHA, Minnesota got big contributions from its freshman class to avoid the upset bug and complete a sweep with a 4-0 shutout of St. Cloud State.
Maryanne Menefee scored the game’s first and last goals, Hannah Brandt had a goal and an assist, Milica McMillen had two primary assists, and Lee Stecklein earned her first collegiate point for the Gophers (4-0).
“We really had to fight and kind of scratch and claw our way through the game tonight,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Generated chances, did some good things, but still we need to learn to get better and fight through the way WCHA opponents are going to play us. They’re going to play us strong and they’re going to work hard, and they’re going to be fast.”
At least the Gophers were spared the fate that befell the two other WCHA teams that were hosting league series versus teams that finished below them in the standings a year ago.
“Last night we let the team try to guess the scores from around the league, and they were all surprised as we were,” Frost said.
North Dakota lost its opener to Minnesota State-Mankato, while Minnesota-Duluth was swept by Ohio State.
Katie Fitzgerald made her debut in goal for SCSU (0-2) and held up admirably with a 32-save effort.
“Great baptism into college hockey” said SCSU coach Jeff Giesen. “It could have went the other way and all of a sudden you give up  like the Colgate girl did last weekend and you’re burnt. Kind of risky, but we’re on the road for eight here; you got to get her in there. I thought she played very well. She really battled, really competed, and took a lot of rough stuff pretty good.”
His team played well in front of their new goalie.
“I thought we were a lot better today,” Giesen said. “Obviously, we made some adjustments on the kill and that helped, and killed a few off; that gives us a little momentum. You still can’t put that team on the power play. They’re pretty skilled.”
McMillen, one of the newcomers to the power play, had primary assists on both goals while up a skater.
The game remained scoreless until the 16:33 mark of period one when the Minnesota power play converted.
“My role for the power play is to be in front of the net, just create havoc, try to tip it in,” Menefee said. “Sometimes it goes off me, sometimes it goes to the boards. It feels nice to get my stick on the puck. It was a nice shot by Milica on the ice, so it was perfect for a tip.”
For the game, Minnesota scored on two of five power plays.
“That goal that she scored tonight, the fourth one on that pass where she one-times the puck on a saucer pass from across the rink and gets great wood on it — she’s got phenomenal hands, a fantastic release, and she’s just a really heady player,” Frost said. “She knows where to go and finds herself in good spots, and she’s willing to pay the price, scoring that first goal in front of the net while getting hacked and whacked.”
Perhaps the biggest goal of the night was the one set up by Stecklein at 11:05 of the second period when she delayed with the puck on a Minnesota play in transition.
“I thought she had great composure,” Frost said. “I thought she was going to move the puck and drive the net, but she just came across the blue line. Meghan Lorence obviously scored the goal, and it was a great one, but she got in a great position to receive the pass with [Bethany] Brausen going to the net.
Lorence’s high snipe, the sophomore wing’s third goal of the year, gave the Gophers some insurance with a two-goal lead. Amanda Kessel had three points on the night, all of them coming on helpers. Noora Räty turned away 20 shots in posting her second shutout of the season and the 28th of her Minnesota career.
“It gives me more confidence, being a freshman, knowing that the goalie has got your back if you make a mistake,” McMillen said.
The Gophers remained perfect on the penalty kill for the season, holding off all seven power plays for the Huskies, including a pair of five-on-three advantages.
“I think our kill has been doing a real good job, and that was an area of concern coming into the year because we lost a lot of our top killers from last year,” Frost said. “Trying to get a lot of people in there and mix it up and get as many feet wet as we can, so to speak.”
St. Cloud travels to Bemidj next weekend for another WCHA series against the Beavers.
“The biggest thing with us right now is we’ve got to find someone who can score goals and get some offensive pressure sustained, because that’s the biggest thing,” Giesen said.
The Gophers will see their first action away from Ridder Arena.
“It was a great learning weekend for us, I thought, and we’re looking forward to heading out to St. Lawrence next weekend,” Frost said. “We needed a test like this from a WCHA opponent, and I felt like we got it.”
For the Minnesota rookies, it’ll be their first excursion on the road.
“I like the homestands, but I’m kind of excited to go see what it is,” Menefee said. “Play at a different rink and see the home crowd, see what it is like playing against them..”