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Kessel scores 200th point, helps Gophers tie another record

The Gophers swept Minnesota State-Mankato over the weekend and equaled the NCAA Division I unbeaten streak record.

In other words, it was a typical weekend series for top-ranked Minnesota.

The Gophers beat unranked Minnesota State-Mankato 8-1 on Friday and 6-0 on Saturday in Mankato to extend their Division I record-winning streak to 32 games. They also tied the NCAA unbeaten-streak record.

Kessel had three goals and four assists against the Mavericks. With her second of three assists Saturday, she became the 24th female player in NCAA history and sixth in Gophers history to score 200 points.

“It’s not necessarily right now that the records are going to be important,” Kessel said. “But in a few years, it’s something that we’re going to be able to look back on and say, ‘I was a part of that team.’”

On Friday, the Gophers and Mavericks scored three goals in the first four minutes.

The first two — a deflected shot by Gophers sophomore forward Rachael Bona and a breakaway goal by the Mavericks’ Lauren Smith — had to be reviewed.

Sophomore defender Rachel Ramsey gave the Gophers the lead again at the 3:46 mark after assists from freshman defenseman Lee Stecklein and junior forward Kelly Terry.

The Gophers scored once more before the end of the period when senior forward Becky Kortum popped the puck up and over Mankato’s junior goaltender Danielle Butters.

“The quick start was great,” head coach Brad Frost said. “And we kind of gave one right back there, but to get the lead again and get up by two after the first period was pretty good.”

Kessel dominated the second period, scoring all three of the Gophers’ goals.

The WCHA’s leading scorer struck first at the 8:40 mark during a Mankato power play. About a minute later, on a Gophers power play, Kessel scored after a quick cross from freshman forward Maryanne Menefee.

When Kessel solidified her hat trick by sneaking the puck through the five-hole at 13:02, the Mavericks took a timeout and brought in a new goaltender, sophomore Erin Krichiver.

“I usually have a tough time playing here,” Kessel said Friday. “A two-goal lead [after the first period] — that’s not very safe, and they have some people on their team that can score. So I think we knew in the locker room that we needed a few more to seal the deal.”

The Gophers replaced senior goaltender Noora Räty with freshman Amanda Leveille at the start of the second period after a shutout was no longer possible, and Leveille kept a clean sheet for the rest of the game. But with the Gophers outshooting the Mavericks 45-12, she had an easier time than her counterpart.

Minnesota added two more goals in the third period — one from sophomore forward Meghan Lorence and another from Bona.

Five Gophers players scored goals, and 10 had assists.

“It seemed like anyone who was out there managed to get something going,” said junior forward Sarah Davis, who had three assists.

The Gophers’ win Saturday didn’t start as cleanly. They didn’t score until halfway through the first period on a power-play goal by freshman defender Milica McMillen. They entered the second period with a 1-0 lead.

“We were just really slow in the first and not controlling the play,” Frost said. “Credit Mankato for that — they were moving their feet and getting pucks deep and causing some turnovers.”

Frost described the game as tough and physical, while Bona said her team was taken aback by the Mavericks’ aggressive play.

But the Gophers adjusted in the second period and scored three goals — two from freshman forward Hannah Brandt and one from senior defender Megan Bozek. In the third period, Minnesota cemented its shutout with goals from Bozek and Bona.

Kessel’s 200th point didn’t come on a goal, but she said an assist was just as fitting and a tribute to her teammates.

Davis said she is lucky Kessel is on her team.

“I’m just glad I’ve only got to play against her in practice, all right?” Davis said. “Yeah, she’s having a good season.”

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