Gophers cruise past Bemidji State and into conference championships

Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota women’s hockey team looked a little bit more like the Gophers team that won 10-straight games earlier this season after sweeping Bemidji State in the opening round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.

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WCHA Championships
when: 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday
where: Ridder Arena

Minnesota (22-11-1 overall, 17-10-1 WCHA) advanced to the WCHA Championships after posting a 5-1 win Friday and a 4-1 win Saturday.

The Gophers got on the scoreboard early in both contests, something junior forward Bobbi Ross said was key to beating the Beavers.

“It’s a completely different feeling to come out and be on top of your game,” she said. “It almost just felt like things were going to go our way.”

After Bemidji State (11-20-5 overall, 9-15-4 WCHA) was whistled for a penalty in the opening moments of the game, Minnesota defenseman Melanie Gagnon took advantage of the power play and scored 53 seconds into the game when she blasted a shot top shelf past junior goalie Emily Brookshaw.

Gagnon’s lamp-lighter was one of three Minnesota power-play goals over the weekend, including freshman forward Brittany Francis’ first-period goal Saturday.

On Francis’ goal, Gagnon faked a slap shot to draw the defenseman away from the net, then slid the puck to junior forward Erica McKenzie in the corner.

McKenzie immediately centered the puck to Francis, who fired a point-blank shot between Brookshaw’s pads.

McKenzie’s assist was her 100th career point in a Gophers uniform, making her the second Minnesota skater to reach the milestone this season after Ross did it last month.

After the game, McKenzie said she wasn’t even aware of the statistic until she heard it announced later in the game, but Gophers coach Laura Halldorson noticed.

“I think (McKenzie) had a solid weekend and did a nice job offensively,” coach Halldorson said. “It was fun to see her get her 100th point, but she still has some time left so I think there are more good things to come.”

Francis shined in her first playoff games for Minnesota, leading the team with a goal and three assists while contributing on every Gophers goal Saturday.

“As we’ve seen in other games, when we don’t come out strong, we usually don’t play as well,” Francis said. “So when we came out strong (Saturday) it just set the tempo for everything else.”

Not so short-handed

In one of its top performances of the season, the Minnesota penalty-kill unit refused to give up a power-play goal in 12 opportunities during the series.

Not only did the Gophers keep the Beavers from scoring a power-play goal, but in the 21:21 Bemidji State played with an advantage this weekend, Minnesota gave up just four shots on goal.

Ross highlighted the Gophers’ special-teams play with a short-handed goal in the third period of Friday’s win.

After taking a Beavers’ shot off her chest, Ross collected the puck and scored a breakaway goal.

“I think the best thing that our penalty-killing unit did that shut them down was our forechecking,” Ross said. “We did a great job playing systems, especially in the earlier part of the game and (penalty killing) was part of that.”