MINNEAPOLIS — Ohio State came to Minneapolis with five wins in its first six games, off to the best start in program history and alone in first place of the WCHA, but ran into a Minnesota team that has been even hotter.
The Gophers (7-0, 3-0 WCHA) received four-point efforts from both Amanda Kessel and Hannah Brandt, two players that have been constants in the team’s offense, as they pulled away to a 7-2 victory, the team’s 15th straight dating back to last season.
A total of 11 players contributed points for Minnesota, including two assists from Megan Bozek, bringing her career total for the Gophers to 101. She becomes the fourth defenseman in the program’s history to reach the century mark.
“We have a great team and I’ve been a part of four great teams now,” Bozek said. “I think that contributes to everyone’s success here. It’s really exciting to get my 100th point.”
One of her points came on the power play, as Minnesota connected on two of five chances, continuing its fast start on special teams.
“We move the puck really well and I think it’s showing against our opponents,” Bozek said. “We’re facing different penalty kills every weekend, but I think we’re adjusting to that and doing really well.”
Ohio State coach Nate Handrahan was not happy with the effort of the Buckeyes (5-2, 3-2 WCHA).
“I thought that we played extremely tentative,” he said. “They’re a good hockey team, but we let them skate around. We need to get back to some of the things that we did well – get pucks deep and protecting pucks. When we did that, I thought we created some opportunities and got to the net front.”
Sophomore forward Taylor Kuehl of nearby Minnetrista, Minn., scored both goals for the Buckeyes on primary assists by Ally Tarr.
“They were great passes from both my teammates,” Kuehl said. “One was a power-play goal and we got it going finally, moving it around. Great pass and I was just lucky to finish.”
On each occasion, the celebration for the visitors was short-lived, as they suffered a setback immediately after scoring.
After Kuehl pulled OSU to within 4-1 at 19:43 of the second period, Kari Schmitt received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a check from behind just 13 seconds later. That eventually contributed to a power-play goal for the Gophers to boost the lead back to four.
Kuehl made it 5-2 later in the third period, snapping in a quick shot, but it took Kelly Terry only 17 seconds to respond with a goal of her own.
“That definitely hurt us,” Kuehl said. “Our goal is that things happen in games and you just have to pick it up. All year, we’ve been talking about things are going to come in games and it’s how you react to that.”
Overall, Minnesota coach Brad Frost was satisfied with the way his team reacted to the challenge the Buckeyes presented.
“They’re bigger, they’re stronger, they’re faster and they compete a little harder than they have in the past, so it was a great test for us,” Frost said. “I really liked how hard they pressured our defensemen on their forecheck, because our ‘D’ need to feel that pressure, and I thought our ‘D’ handled it pretty well.”
Minnesota cashed in a couple of rebound opportunities to take a 2-0 first-period lead.
“Not every goal is going to be pretty and most of them aren’t,” Kessel said. “If we can keep working on that, too, getting the rebounds, I think we’ll be good.”
Four seconds after a Gophers’ power play came to an end, Brandt corralled the puck after Chelsea Knapp saved a Bozek shot and swept the disk behind the goalie and into the net.
Maryanne Menefee, who had the other assist on the first goal, started the second tally as well, keeping the puck in at the blue line and quickly feeding the puck ahead to Brandt and sending her in alone on Knapp. The goaltender denied the first shot, but Kessel beat her to the loose puck and stuffed it home.
“We’re having a blast playing together and I think that’s helping us,” Kessel said. “The three of us have great chemistry out there and we all like to pass the puck around.”
Minnesota also had second-period goals from a pair of defensemen, Milica McMillen and Rachel Ramsey, and a late goal from Rachael Bona.
“We need to get our second line going a little bit, so we made a change swapping [Meghan] Lorence and Bona and that gave us two goals there towards the end of the game,” Frost explained.
Noora Räty made 15 saves to earn her 82nd career win as Gopher, one behind the program mark established by Jody Horak in 2005.
Knapp and Lisa Steffes combined for 36 stops in the Ohio State net.
For at least another day, Minnesota escaped the rash of league upsets, real or perceived, that saw Minnesota-Duluth lose a shootout at Minnesota State and Bemidji State take a 1-0 win in the first game ever in Wisconsin’s LaBahn Arena.
“Take nothing for granted because you never know,” Frost said.
Ohio State, Minnesota and North Dakota are all tied atop the WCHA with nine points.
The teams don’t have much time to recharge, as the puck drops at 1:07 p.m. CST on Saturday for the series finale.
“This is our worst performance of the year,” Handrahan said. “This is not our team and how we play. We had some players that didn’t show up tonight and I’m confident that we’ll recover and teach and learn and get ready to play with a short turnaround tomorrow.”