Minnesota sweeps conference-opening series against Minnesota State

The Gophers gave up 48 shots and three goals during the weekend series.

Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota women’s hockey team has outscored Minnesota State 20-4 in the last four meetings, making it easy to see why the Gophers now have a 37-1-2 all-time record against the Mavericks.

Minnesota continued its dominance by sweeping Western Collegiate Hockey Association opponent Minnesota State-Mankato 4-1 Friday and 5-2 Saturday.

The Gophers’ offense dominated the series, scoring nine goals on 73 shots, while Minnesota’s defense showed marked improvement, allowing just three goals on 48 shots during the weekend.

In Friday’s opening game, the Gophers’ strong offensive pressure made up for a slow start defensively, but wide shots, poor passing and missed opportunities kept Minnesota off the scoreboard.

“The first period wasn’t our best period of hockey,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “I thought we got better as the game went along.”

For much of the first period, Minnesota (3-1-0 overall, 2-0-0 WCHA) was able to keep the puck out of its defensive zone, allowing only one shot on goal during the first 10 minutes of the game.

The initial pressure also allowed Minnesota to take the lead with 12:20 remaining in the first period when junior forward Erica McKenzie fed the puck to freshman forward Kelli Blankenship for her third goal of the season.

The Mavericks (1-4-0, 0-4-0) tied the game later in the period after a penalty put the Gophers down a player. Minnesota State forward Maggie Fisher launched a slap-shot past sophomore goaltender Brittony Chartier for the Mavericks’ only goal of the game.

Senior captain Andrea Nichols recorded her second game-winning goal of the year when she caught a pass directed behind her, spun and slid the puck just out of reach of Minnesota State junior goalie Britni Kehler.

Junior forward Whitney Graft and freshman forward Brittany Francis each added a goal for the Gophers in the third period.

In Saturday’s series finale, the Mavericks had several opportunities to even up the series, but stellar goaltending and a defense that is slowly starting to step up its game prevented Minnesota State from taking an early lead.

The Gophers jumped out in front with 5:30 remaining in the first period when McKenzie knocked home a rebound on a shot that appeared to hit the back of the net. The confusion allowed the junior to shoot the puck over Kehler’s blocker and into the net.

The Mavericks tied the game five minutes into the second period when Chartier was unable to cover a loose puck and Minnesota State junior forward Amanda Stohr lifted it over the goalie.

The two teams played evenly for most of the second period, adding another goal to make the score 2-2.

Minnesota’s penalty kill unit was close to perfect this weekend, giving up only one goal in a series in which the Gophers had nine penalties.

The special teams play was highlighted by a pair of player disadvantages, including a span in Saturday’s second period where junior Bobbi Ross was called for two penalties in just over four minutes.

But Ross made it worth the wait, coming out of the box on a Minnesota power play and scoring the game-winning goal.

The Gophers added two more goals in the third to seal the victory.

“We didn’t play to what we expect out of our players,” Minnesota State coach Jeff Vizenor said. “We didn’t do what we set out to do, and they put pucks in our net.”

Chartier helped clinch the sweep, playing well in the goal for Minnesota. She allowed only three goals in the two-game series. Two goals came off rebounds, and the third was scored on a Mavericks power-play.

“Brittony played very well,” Halldorson said. “What can you do about those tips? There is nothing you can do about them.”

Chartier’s 45 stops raised her save percentage to .857 and lowered her goals against average to 2.56, more than enough when considering her offense averages 4.8 goals a game.

“Every line is contributing,” McKenzie said. “We’re putting up good numbers and moving the puck well.”