BEMIDJI, Minn. — Minnesota completed a perfect first half of the season with a 5-0 win at Bemidji State.
“[It was a] great end to the first half, another hard-fought victory today,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “We played very well defensively. Our penalty kill was excellent once again. We did enough to get some goals on the scoreboard there. Give Bemidji a ton of credit; they always play us extremely tough, and do a great job blocking shots.
“It’s a pretty special team to win 20 in a row to start a season.”
Amanda Kessel supplied a hat trick to the offensive effort, bringing her goal total for the season to 25.
“I knew that they like to bunch down low and we were going to get gritty goals,” she said. “We didn’t have any pretty ones, but that happens in some games. Knowing that, we had to get those dirty goals.”
While Minnesota (20-0-0, 14-0-0 WCHA) was on a power play, Mira Jalosuo deflected a Rachel Ramsey shot past Jessica Havel at 17:12 of the opening period to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.
“Just trying to get it through,” Ramsey said of her shot. “It was a really good pass by Kelly Terry, and we had Mira in front there. She’s a pretty big force to screen the goalie, and she had a really nice tip on it.”
Amanda Kessel doubled the lead just over two minutes later, taking a pass from Hannah Brandt, carrying the puck from behind the Beavers’ net and flicking a backhand over Havel’s shoulder.
“It gets pretty rough going in the second period with a 0-0 ball game,” Ramsey said. “It was nice to break the ice there, especially on a power-play goal.”
Kessel beat Havel again from close range to build the Gophers’ lead to three at 2:55 of the second period on another power play.
Becky Kortum scored Minnesota’s fourth goal before Kessel completed her hat trick in the third period.
Havel had a career-high 35 saves for Bemidji State (3-13-2, 2-11-1 WCHA).
“Obviously there’s a reason why they’re the number one team in the nation, and every shot they had tonight was a hard, good shot,” she said. “Personally, I like it better when I’m getting those fast, hard shots, and they keep coming at me. It just kind of keeps me like mentally focused and just keeps me in the game.”
Havel has been getting most of the starts in the net of late for BSU, especially now that Niagara transfer Abby Ryplanski has been out with an injury.
“The last three years, I’ve been on the bench, and kind of we were splitting in the beginning of the season,” Havel said. “Now I’m in a rhythm and I’ve got the confidence, especially after playing these guys, I know I can play at this level.”
Noora Räty made 15 saves to log her eighth shutout of the year after the Beavers scored late on Friday to prevent her from reaching that mark.
“I think that was the main focus,” Kessel said. “My line was out there last night and we weren’t too happy about that, so getting out there at the end of the game and just knowing we’re going to keep two back and protect the lead for our goalie.”
Bemidji State did have some chances. The best came when Kaitlyn Tougas pushed a pass wide of the far post on a rush in the second period.
“We just haven’t been able to score many goals,” Havel said. “We know we need to work on that, and just getting conditioned and ready for the second half.”
Frost thought that the break in the schedule comes at a good time for his team.
“As good as everything has gone, it’s still been a long first half, as it always is,” he said.
Not all of the Gophers will get to rest while the team is off until the second weekend in January, as a number of players have national team commitments.
“I think that’s a tough thing, some of us going to camps and we have a few Canadians going to tournaments,” Kessel said. “That’s something that we’ll have to try and manage, but I think it’s important for us to come back off of break and pick right back up where we left.”