Gophers women’s hockey splits season opening series

Gophers goalie Lauren Bench had an impressive debut for Minnesota, stopping 69/71 shots on goal over the weekend.

The+University+of+Minnesota+women%E2%80%99s+hockey+team+plays+against+Ohio+State+at+Ridder+Arena+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+21.+The+Gophers+ended+the+night+with+a+4-0+win.

Emily Urfer

The University of Minnesota women’s hockey team plays against Ohio State at Ridder Arena on Saturday, Nov. 21. The Gophers ended the night with a 4-0 win.

Matthew Kennedy, Sports Reporter

Bench blanks Buckeyes in Minnesota debut Saturday

The Gophers got a fast and furious start to their 2020-21 season.

Grace Zumwinkle skated past the Ohio State forwards and scored with the first shot on goal of the season for Minnesota not even 30 seconds into the game. Aside from the early misstep, the Buckeyes pounced on the puck and kept it on their end of the ice for most of the first period. Ohio State outshot the Gophers that period 12-3.

The second period was similar to the first. Minnesota had an opportunity to extend its lead with an Ohio State penalty, but were only able to get one shot on goal against the bruising Buckeyes defense. Nonetheless, around the halfway mark of the second period, freshman Josey Dunne wrapped around the net and slid in a goal on the opposite side of Buckeyes goalie Andrea Braendli.

The Gophers held the 2-0 lead until the end of the period, but continued to be outpaced by Ohio State as they were outshot 24-11 through the first two periods.

The third period featured the completion of outstanding play by Minnesota goaltender Lauren Bench, making her first start between the pipes for the maroon and gold. The fifth-year graduate transfer was perfect with a 1.000 save percentage, stopping all 36 Ohio State shots.

Bench was elated after the game, thankful for her new Gophers teammates who contributed to the shutout victory.

“Who isn’t happy with a shutout in their first game? I’m really happy for my teammates in front of me blocking shots and clearing rebounds which was huge,” Bench said. “It’s nice that we have each other’s backs.”

Zumwinkle added her second goal of the night late in the contest and Taylor Wente hit an open net snipe from the other end of the ice as the Gophers cruised to a 4-0 win.

“Great way to start the season off with a win against a team with a relentless forecheck. Overall, we were solid defensively against the Buckeyes play style which is very offensive heavy,” head coach Brad Frost said. “We can get some two on one breakaways and really nice shot opportunities, even if they are limited due to Ohio State’s constant pressure on the attack.”

Buckeye shots find the back of the net Sunday

The Gophers and Buckeyes both got involved scoring early. Moments after Zumwinkle registered her third goal of the season from a nice setup pass from Taylor Heise, the Buckeyes quickly struck back with the team’s first goal of the season from senior forward Liz Schepers.

Around the 10th minute mark, the Buckeyes found the back of the net once again, this time from senior forward Tatum Skaggs. Skaggs’ goal put the Gophers behind on the scoreboard for the first time of the season.

At the end of the first, the Buckeyes’ speedy pace of play was working for them again as they continued to outshoot Minnesota 18-5 and took a 2-1 lead into the second.

In the second period, the Gophers had a powerplay opportunity early, but only got one shot off. Shorthanded, Ohio State controlled the puck for most of the two-minute penalty. Neither team changed the score and Ohio State continued its constant barrage at Bench, firing off nine more shots to increase its shot-on-goal advantage, 27-12.

The Gophers started the final period of the weekend shorthanded because of an Olivia Knowles penalty. Fortunately for Minnesota, the Buckeyes couldn’t capitalize. However, Minnesota was also unable to tie the game after a stronger offensive performance in the third where the team outshot the Buckeyes 14-8. The score didn’t change after the first and Ohio State walked out of Ridder Arena with its win of the season, a 2-1 victory.

“We came back in the last half of the second period and the third period in particular. The first period we got out to an early lead but they answered the next shift and really took it to us,” Frost said. “We were winning faceoffs but they were still getting possession of the puck and overloading the corners and we had a tough time handling it, particularly in the last five minutes. We had a lot of great scoring chances but it just didn’t happen today.”

The Gophers travel to Duluth on Thanksgiving weekend to play in-state rivals in the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs on Nov. 27-28.