Minnesota breezes by Mavericks in sweep

The Gophers moved into first place in the WCHA standings over the weekend.

Forward Maryanne Menefee shoots the puck against Minnesota State Mankato on Saturday at Ridder Arena.

Juliet Farmer

Forward Maryanne Menefee shoots the puck against Minnesota State Mankato on Saturday at Ridder Arena.

Grant Donald

Minnesota’s versatile offense fired on all cylinders over the weekend, as 10 different players scored at least one goal to lead the Gophers to a sweep over Minnesota State-Mankato.

Junior forward Maryanne Menefee netted her second career hat trick in a 7-3 victory on Friday. She followed up that performance with a goal in Saturday’s 7-1 win.

“[Menefee’s] so smart — she knows where to go,” Gophers head coach Brad Frost said. “[She had a] lot of nice rebound goals, things that we’ve been focusing on in regards to getting to the net a little more and getting some dirty goals.”

After a relatively slow start to her season, scoring just three goals in her first nine games, Menefee has been rolling with 14 points over her last six games.

While Menefee had to fire the puck past an alert Mavericks goaltender for her first goal Friday, she had much easier rebound opportunities later on, and she buried the puck into a wide-open net in the third period to complete her hat trick.

“I found myself in the right spot,” Menefee said. “It’s nice to get those goals when they don’t happen all the time.”

The Gophers aren’t only benefiting Menefee’s surge in the second half of the season. They’re also taking advantage of freshmen who have begun to fully adjust to college hockey and are now contributing on a more consistent basis.

Sydney Baldwin, Kelly Pannek and Cara Piazza all scored at least one goal over the weekend, and they have recently provided much more offense than earlier in the year when Minnesota’s top line carried the team.

“First semester is always a hard time for freshmen, but now I feel comfortable whenever I’m out on the ice,” Piazza said. “I think now that we have consistent lines, it really helps because we have created chemistry that wasn’t there early in the year.”

Frost said he never really knows how long it will take for the younger players to adjust to everything that comes with college hockey.

“It generally takes a good half year, sometimes longer, to really figure out how to play at the pace and intensity that is needed every day,” Frost said. “The more comfortable they get, the better it is for us, and obviously the better it is for them as players moving forward.”

While Frost and his team had plenty to celebrate on the ice this weekend, they also received some good news off the ice as they moved into sole possession of first place in the WCHA with more than a month remaining in the regular season.

After missing an opportunity to jump Wisconsin in the standings when the two teams played each other last weekend, the Gophers got help from Bemidji State, which beat the Badgers on Friday night.

Minnesota didn’t squander its chance to return to the top of the conference, and now the Gophers can control their own destiny for the rest of the season.

“It’s always a goal of ours to win the conference title, and there is a long way to go yet,” Frost said. “Things could have gone sideways in a hurry for us early in the season with playing those tough teams in the first five weeks, but we were able to get through that, and obviously our play in the second half [of the season] has been great.”