Gophers’ title defense begins with two shutouts in a road sweep

Two of Minnesota’s goaltenders earned a shutout facing off against Penn State.

Gophers forward Kelly Pannek scores a goal against St. Cloud State during the second period at Braemar Arena on Monday Nov. 2014.

Alex Tuthil-Preus, Daily File Photo

Gophers forward Kelly Pannek scores a goal against St. Cloud State during the second period at Braemar Arena on Monday Nov. 2014.

Emily Polglaze

In chasing what could be their fourth national championship title in five years, the No. 1 Minnesota women’s hockey team is off to a good start. 
 
In their series opener on the road against Penn State University, the Gophers defeated the Nittany Lions 2-0 Thursday and 5-0 Friday.
 
“I was really happy with it; going on the road and not giving up any goals is a very good thing,” head coach Brad Frost said. “I feel we carried the play on Friday night. And then on Saturday we started quick, which is what we always want to do.”
 
Though they never allowed Penn State to score in either game, it took the Gophers a while to get on the board themselves Thursday night. 
 
In the first period, Penn State outshot Minnesota 12-8, and neither team scored. 
 
The Gophers were quick to change that in the next period, though, as they went on the power play from a Penn State tripping call and senior defenseman Milica McMillen scored 4:16 into the second. Assists came from sophomores Kelly Pannek and Cara Piazza.
 
The second period passed quietly after that, as did much of the third. 
 
Penn State stayed close until the end, when freshman Sarah Potomak scored an unassisted empty-net goal with less than a minute remaining. 
 
Minnesota ended up outshooting Penn State 43-20 but could only produce two goals largely in part to Penn State’s strong goaltender, Celine Whitlinger.
 
Whitlinger had 41 saves in the game, and immediately facing a strong net presence in their season opener helped the Gophers, according to senior captain Hannah Brandt. 
 
“We’re going to deal with a lot of goalies like that this year,” Brandt said. “It’s good to have that adversity because it’s going to happen sooner than later. We might only win one- or two-to-nothing, but we have to keep pushing.”
 
The growing pains didn’t seem to stick with Minnesota in their second game, and they came out strong offensively. 
 
Just 3:14 into the first period, Pannek scored on a rebound feed from Piazza after junior captain Lee Stecklein got the play started with a shot. 
 
Brandt tallied her first goal of the year almost four minutes afterward, with assists from Potomak and junior Dani Cameranesi. 
 
The second period also saw two Minnesota goals, one from junior Megan Wolfe and one from Pannek, adding her second of the night. 
 
In the third, Brandt scored for the second time, making the score 5-0 for another Minnesota victory. 
 
Five Gophers had multi-point games Friday, and they held the Nittany Lions to just seven shots.
 
Senior goaltender Amanda Leveille earned Thursday’s shutout, while redshirt sophomore Sidney Peters was responsible for Friday’s.
 
“Our coaches did a great job of bringing things back to us after watching the first game,” Pannek said. “We made the necessary changes. Getting used to each 
other again and getting our feet wet with that first game let us make adjustments.”
 
There are still some adjustments to be made before Minnesota enters conference play. The Gophers were 0-4 on the power play Friday night, but Frost said there’s plenty of time to get his team where they want to be. 
 
“We’ve only been practicing for a couple of weeks,” Frost said. “It’s important to get more opportunities in practice to fine tune for games.”