Gophers women’s hockey defy potential woes for first half success

Minnesota has started the year strong despite big lineup changes.

Gophers defenseman Lee Stecklein skates with the puck from Minnesota State-Mankato's Katie Johnson on Jan. 16, 2015 at Ridder Arena.

Daily File Photo, Juliet Farmer

Gophers defenseman Lee Stecklein skates with the puck from Minnesota State-Mankato’s Katie Johnson on Jan. 16, 2015 at Ridder Arena.

Tommy Sletten

Coming into this season, Minnesota lost two star forwards, a standout goalie and several other key players.

Last weekend, Minnesota took an 8-2 loss at No. 1 Wisconsin, which included the first time any Badgers player scored a hat trick against the Gophers.

“It’s critically important to go out and end our first half on a good note,” said head coach Brad Frost. “If we do that, I would look at our first half, record-wise, and it would be an incredibly successful first half.”

So, is it time to panic?

The answer is no.

Despite program staples Hannah Brandt and Amanda Kessel graduating, Minnesota retained its leading scorer from last year, senior forward Dani Cameranesi, this season.

Cameranesi leads the NCAA in goals with 18, and is second in points.

Two other members of the Gophers first line — junior forward Kelly Pannek and sophomore forward Sarah Potomak — have stepped up as well.

Pannek leads the nation in assists and total points, while Potomak is seventh in points.

The last time the Gophers allowed eight goals in one game was against Harvard on Nov 7, 1999.

Looking at just that statistic, one might assume it was a disastrous season for the storied women’s hockey program.

But what did Minnesota do in the 1999-2000 season that included that eight-goal loss?

The Gophers won the AWCHA National Championship and defeated Brown 4-2 in the final game, the first national championship in team history.

Minnesota has also dealt with a young defense and new starting goaltender this season.

But is the team all that different defensively?

Again, the answer is no.

At this point last year, Minnesota was 16-3-0, while Minnesota is currently 14-2-2 with two games to go before the midway point of the season.

The Gophers aren’t letting in many more goals, either, with 29 allowed so far this year and 27 at last season’s midpoint.

The Gophers also retained senior defenseman Lee Stecklein, an Olympic silver medalist, who is widely regarded as one of the best defenseman in the nation.

“I think we have some great freshman coming in, and the remaining D have realized that we need to fill some roles in different ways,” Stecklein said. “It might be a little different this year, but it’s still where we have always been strong as a program.”

Minnesota lost standout Amanda Leveille to graduation this season. Leveille posted a final save percentage of .942, which made for fourth best in the country.

However, current goaltender redshirt junior Sidney Peters has filled Leveille’s shoes well.

She has posted a .922 save percentage in the first half of her first season as a starter, also good enough for fourth in the nation.

Peters has more minutes on the ice than any other goaltender ahead of her. More importantly, Peters has the trust of her teammates.

“We always have great goaltending here at the U, and Sid has had some great games in her past two seasons,” Stecklein said. “It’s been a nice adjustment period [for us] and I think it’s going well.”

Peters faced the 8-2 loss, her first game being pulled, with honesty.

“It stunk. It was a bad game. At the end of the night, you can be upset about it, but you can’t dwell on it, because we have a lot of the season left to play,” Peters said.

Despite her shaky second game against Wisconsin, Peters posted a career-high 37 save shutout against the No. 1 Badgers the game prior to lead her team to a 2-0 victory.

So, is it time to panic?

With this team, no, no it is not.