Trio of freshmen finding groove

The Gophers have benefited recently from solid freshmen play.

Grant Donald

Much like their fellow classmates, the freshman members of the Gophers women’s hockey team have had their fair share of trials and tribulations both on and off the ice.

But as second semester begins, freshmen Kelly Pannek, Sydney Baldwin and Cara Piazza have started to adapt to the college game — and their recent play is living proof.

“Every single year, it takes our freshmen about a semester [to figure things out], and that’s what happened to Kelly, Sydney and Cara,” head coach Brad Frost said. “To see those kids and to see the confidence they are playing with right now, it’s tremendous.”

The young trio has combined for 47 points on the year, 16 of which have come in the six games after the team’s month-long winter break.

But their success is not just evident in the number of points they have produced — it’s also apparent in the quality of their goals and the pressure-filled situations in which the freshmen have stepped up.

Piazza experienced this firsthand during the Gophers’ series against then-No. 3 Wisconsin.

Late in the first period of the first game, Piazza had an opportunity to put the Gophers ahead off a Badgers mistake, an opportunity she took full advantage of.

“That was awesome because I felt like I really wasn’t getting any points before then, and it can get pretty frustrating,” Piazza said. “Getting a big goal in a huge game was such a big confidence boost, and I finally realized that I have the ability to play in important games.”

Since Piazza is a forward, some of her success can be measured by stats throughout the season. Meanwhile, Baldwin, as a defender, naturally doesn’t light up the score sheet, so it can be harder to evaluate her play.

Nevertheless, Frost said that over the last six games, Baldwin has been playing her best hockey of the season.

Her play has even led to the rare appearance of a defenseman on the score sheet, as she has recorded two goals and an assist in her last six games.

“[This year is] definitely different than in high school when you would be able to score as a defender,” Baldwin said. “I just had to find a different way to gauge the way I played.”

While Baldwin and Piazza have made surges during the second half of the season, Pannek has been contributing almost all year.

Pannek has put up 30 points thus far, good for fourth on the team. She has also recorded at least one point in nine of her last 11 games, proving to be a consistent scoring option in her first year.

“If you look at my two senior captain linemates … they have been successful over their careers, so we are expected to score as a line,” Pannek said. “It’s an expectation that we put upon ourselves that we need to score.”

Combine the play of these three underclassmen with the rest of the team and it is easy to see why Frost is excited for the postseason, which is only five weeks away.

“[The freshmen] are a large part of the reason why we are so successful,” Frost said. “The more success they can taste right now, the better we will be and they will be in the future.”