Nearly every time out, Minnesota is achieving some type of milestone. Saturday’s 6-0 win over Minnesota State ran the Gophers’ unbeaten streak to 32, matching the NCAA record accomplished by Wisconsin twice.
“It seems crazy to think that even last year we still have a streak going, but our team last year and our team this year is doing great,” co-captain Megan Bozek said. “I hope that we can keep it rolling.”
On the individual accomplishment front, Amanda Kessel assisted three times to bring her career point total to 201.
“Really happy to make it 32 in a row and 24 on the season,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “And for Kessel to get her 200th point and be the sixth player in our program’s history is pretty special.”
“It was nice,” Kessel said. “I didn’t even know that I reached it. I knew that I was coming close, but my linemates were the ones that pointed it out and told me congrats when I got to the bench. It was pretty cool.”
Noora Räty made 26 saves to earn the shutout, her ninth of the season and the 35th of her career, four shy of Jessie Vetter’s NCAA standard.
Defenseman Bozek and rookie center Hannah Brandt each found the net twice for the Gophers (24-0-0, 18-0-0 WCHA), with Bozek adding two helpers while Brandt had one.
Freshman defenseman Milica McMillen scored the only goal of the first period. Her power-play shot found the net through Danielle Butter’s five-hole at 10:20 off assists from Bozek and Kessel.
“I thought we played well, and then we got through the first [penalty] kill, and then we took one right away again,” said MSU coach Eric Means.
The frame did offer plenty of action, including 18 shots for the Gophers and 11 by the Mavericks (9-14-3, 5-12-3 WCHA).
Kessel nearly earned point number 200 on a highlight-reel type goal, but her shot glanced off the crossbar.
She almost made the game memorable for an entirely different reason, as she crashed heavily into the side boards and remained face down on her knees for several seconds after play halted 10 minutes into the game. Kessel returned to action immediately after the puck dropped, but left the game for good before the end of the second period.
The game’s key sequence came a couple of minutes into the middle period when the Gophers took two penalties five seconds apart. Minnesota State had great looks on the ensuing five-on-three power play, but couldn’t beat Räty.
“We’re down one, we get a five-on-three, and we don’t score, and they score almost right after,” Means said. “In all intents and purpose, it’s such an emotional shift that is pretty much the game.”
Brandt scored off of a scramble just over a minute after her team returned to full strength, pushing the lead to 2-0.
“In a way, it’s almost more frustrating,” Means said. “We had it to our leading scorer three times six feet out in front of Räty with no one around her, and she couldn’t find the back of the net. It’s a big difference if it’s 1-1, or if we can get two, at 2-1, now we’ve got a chance.”
Instead, Räty denied Lauren Smith twice from point-blank range and another shot flew wide.
“That’s the thing with Minnesota,” Means said. “They’ve got really good defensemen, and obviously, they’ve got a couple of world-class people up front, but then if you can somehow get to Räty, you’ve got one of the best goalies in the world. There’s no real weak link to the team.”
Bozek got her first goal on a blast when a loose puck found her in the high slot less than three minutes later and the Gophers were never seriously threatened.
The Minnesota co-captain made the lead five in the third period. That ended Butters’ night after 34 saves in 47 minutes, with Erin Krichiver taking over the MSU net.
Sophomore Rachael Bona completed the scoring at 15:45 of the final period, her third goal of the weekend and 10th of her season.
“It feels good,” Bona said. “It’s frustrating when you get a lot of shots on net and they don’t go in, but I’ve just been trying to put it on net, and it seems to be going the right way for me.”
Räty has had more than a few shutouts get away in the closing minutes, and when Bozek turned the puck over in her own zone, it looked like a Mavericks player was going to go in alone on the netminder, but Bozek was able to break the play up from behind.
“I had to recover,” Bozek said. “Noora has backed us up in however many games and made some big saves so we could win those games. The least we can do is repay her and get her a record, too. Had a little scare there, but I knew I had to get it somehow, if I took a penalty. Luckily, I pushed the puck away, but it was pretty scary.”
Going forward, Means wants to see his team bring a more consistent effort every time out.
“I told the girls at the end, our effort tonight and last Saturday was a lot better than it was the two previous Fridays,” he said. “We played the last-place team in the league and we played the first-place team. Unfortunately, our effort tonight wasn’t good enough to beat them, but it is good enough to beat a lot of teams in our league. It’s so mental with our team that if we come to play, we can be tough to beat.”
The Mavericks are in sixth place and currently have a six-point lead over the WCHA’s bottom two teams, Bemidji State and St. Cloud State, as the teams jockey for playoff seeding over the final weeks.
“Obviously, you want to stay away from Minnesota,” Means said. “After that, I think anything could happen in that opening weekend.”
Next weekend, the Gophers travel to Madison to get their first look at LaBahn Arena.
“I’ve heard a lot about it, but I’m excited,” Bona said. “It’s only the second [built for] women’s [college hockey] rink in the United States, so it will be cool to go there and check that out.”
After a split at North Dakota, the Badgers will be hungry to get some points out of the series with Minnesota.
“Any time that we face each other, they always bring their best game, and I think we do, too,” Kessel said.