Brown and Knowles proving vital to Minnesota’ defensive success

The Gophers top-line defenders both have interesting paths to their positions.

Olivia Knowles gets ready to take the puck on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 at Ridder Arena. The Gophers lost to the Wisconsin Badgers 2-1.

Elle Moulin

Olivia Knowles gets ready to take the puck on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 at Ridder Arena. The Gophers lost to the Wisconsin Badgers 2-1.

Matthew Kennedy

This season, the Gophers women’s hockey team has boasted one of the top defensive units in the country. 

They’ve allowed the sixth-lowest amount goals of any team in the country, and most importantly, they’ve given up three goals in a game just eight times in 31 games this season, upholding the “zero, one, two” motto the team preaches: always keep the other team under three. 

One of the biggest reasons for the team’s success? Junior starting defensemen Olivia Knowles and assistant captain Emily Brown. 

The combination of Knowles and Brown is unique.

Both skaters didn’t expect when they started their hockey careers that they would play defense. When Knowles first started playing hockey in a recreational boys league, there was an abundance of forwards. She thought the odds of getting on the team were better if she chose defense, and she made it. The switch came organically for Brown. 

“Growing up I was always a forward who got used to putting goals in the net and that being my number one job. But when I got older, I became a decent backward skater and at one point I was put at the back of the blue line and it stuck,” she said. “I love my role now though.” 

Head coach Brad Frost said he didn’t even know that Brown used to play forward.  

The bond between the defensemen extends further than being linemates. The pair were roommates as freshmen and have continued to live together even though both believe they have different personalities, Knowles being more outgoing and Brown being somewhat reserved. 

That experience, according Frost, built great chemistry between the two. 

“When we were freshman, [Frost] gave us D pairings based on who we know well and luckily our pairing was perfect” Knowles said.

Statistically, Brown and Knowles caught fire in the scoring column early in the season as they both put up two-goal games within the first month.

Recently, however, they haven’t found much luck in getting pucks in the net. Luckily for the Gophers, it hasn’t impacted their most important responsibility, playing shutdown defense. 

The Gophers rank second in the NCAA with a .925  penalty kill percentage, trailing only Cornell. 

“As juniors now they are great leaders on our team and have been much more consistent,” Frost said. “We want our goalie, [Sydney] Scobee, to make as many saves as she can but if we can limit the shot opportunities she faces, that’s ideal. Emily and Olivia have done a fantastic job at that this year.”

For both Brown and Knowles, one of their biggest role models is fellow defender, senior captain Patti Marshall. This weekend’s series against Minnesota State will be Marshall’s last at Ridder Arena in the regular season.

“I knew Patti growing up playing in summer leagues growing up in the State of Hockey. From the moment I met her she was someone that I saw as the standard for how I conduct myself on and off the ice,” Brown said. “Her leadership is contagious to everyone in our program”. 

Knowles added that Marshall is “one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. Even in the dog days of the season like we are in right now where things can be challenging, she always looks on the bright side. She’s a great captain for all of us and a great friend.”