GRAND FORKS, N.D. — With Amanda Kessel out of the lineup, Minnesota was deadlocked 1-1 with North Dakota and looking for another source of production as the third period wound down.
The Gophers (9-0, 5-0 WCHA) found it from sophomore Rachael Bona, Kessel’s replacement on the Hannah Brandt line.
UND turned the puck over at its own blue line and Brandt scooped it up, creating a transition opportunity that Bona finished off at 12:30 of the final stanza.
“Their ‘D’ stepped up and I think she poke-checked it and it was just laying right there in front of the net, so I just whacked it on the ice and it went it,” Bona said. “I saw both [Brandt and Maryanne Menefee] were going to the net, so if I could get it on net, maybe there would be a rebound. Luckily, it went right in.”
Minnesota’s offense came into the game averaging nearly seven goals per contest, but sputtered over the first 50 minutes of the game.
“It’s always kind of difficult when you juggle lines, especially we didn’t know if she was in or out right before the game,” Bona said. “During practice, we really weren’t practicing with the lines we were going to play with today, but it all worked out.”
She credited much of that success to Brandt, who contributed a goal and an assist in as Minnesota triumphed, 5-1.
“She’s pretty easy to play with,” Bona said. “She moves the puck well, she sees the ice well and she’s just a great player. I think anyone that gets thrown on her line could do a good job.”
North Dakota (4-3, 4-3 WCHA) saw some positives in the game, although obviously not in the outcome.
“I was really happy with our first period,” coach Brian Idalski said. “I thought the forecheck was pretty good, turned some pucks over, had some opportunities. I think it will go unnoticed by the casual viewer that Noora Räty kind of held them in and made some big saves until they got themselves going.”
Minnesota’s coach agreed.
“She was the difference,” Brad Frost said. “There was a leg pad save that she made and a glove save, Dominik Hašek-like. If those two go in, I can promise you it’s a different game tonight.”
The two teams traded innocent looking shots from long range in the first minute of the second period that eluded screened goaltenders.
Tori Williams found the top corner over Räty’s blocker after a faceoff in the North Dakota offensive zone 18 seconds into the middle frame. The goal was the first of the season for the sophomore from The Pas, Man. Andrea Dalen and Mary Loken earned assists.
It marked the first time this season that Minnesota trailed. The deficit didn’t last long. Monique Lamoureux went to the penalty box a half of a minute later, and nine seconds into the power play, Megan Bozek threw a shot on net and by Jorid Dagfinrud with assists going to Milica McMillen and Hannah Brandt.
“Unfortunately, we gave that one up right after,” Idalski said. “But that’s a credit to a mature team that’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Minnesota extended its lead with goals by McMillen, Brook Garzone, and Brandt over the final five minutes. Garzone’s tally was her first as a Gopher.
“After the first period, we realized that we just needed to put shots on net and things might go in,” defenseman McMillen said. “We tried to use the points as much as possible.”
Minnesota was successful in part because it was able to keep both Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux off of the score sheet.
“Those two are above and beyond anyone we’ve played yet, and it’s a lot of fun and it is tough, too,” McMillen said.
The Gophers survived what was by far their toughest test thus far.
“It was great to have some adversity there and see our team come together and come out better on the other side of it and get the win tonight,” Frost said.
UND was left wanting a different finish.
“I thought we played well in the first and second and part-way through the third,” Williams said. “It was just frustrating those last 10 minutes, we kind of let it slip away and we can’t do that next time.”
North Dakota was missing a pair of forwards, as both Michelle Karvinen and Leah Jensen were held out of the game and will be game-time decisions for Sunday’s series finale.
“Our training staff makes the call on that,” Idalski said. “Obviously as a coach, we probably would have played them already, but we have to think long term with both of them and do what is best for them and make sure they are sound at the end of the year when it counts the most. So we’ll err on the side of being cautious.”