No. 2 Minnesota sweeps St. Cloud State in unique 3-game series

Amy Potomak returned from an injury that held her out for the first half of the season.

Gophers+defenseman+Madeline+Wethington+pursues+an+opponent+at+Ridder+Arena+on+Sunday%2C+Nov.+22.+The+Gophers+ultimately+fell+to+the+Ohio+State+Buckeyes+2-1.

Emily Pofahl

Gophers defenseman Madeline Wethington pursues an opponent at Ridder Arena on Sunday, Nov. 22. The Gophers ultimately fell to the Ohio State Buckeyes 2-1.

Matthew Kennedy, Sports Reporter

Due to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs women’s hockey team contracting COVID-19 and postponing a two-game series scheduled to be played on Jan. 4-5, the Gophers were able to salvage one of those games on their schedule by playing St. Cloud State on Thursday. This extra match extended the Gophers upcoming two-game series versus the Huskies to three.

Zumwinkle scores twice to bring the Gophers to a 1-0 series lead

The Huskies did a terrific job to start out the game by keeping the Gophers offense bottled up. Shots for the first half of the opening period were in St. Cloud State’s favor. It was obvious that both teams had not played much hockey in the last month, with neither team having the edge.

After a failed powerplay opportunity at the end of the period, it was clear there was little chemistry in any Golden Gopher line to start out. The Gophers’ defense for the rest of the period since the halfway point was outstanding however, only allowing one shot on net. At the end of one, the score was 0-0 with Minnesota leading shots on goal 11-6.

The second period started out with fireworks, as the Gophers came out and fired three shots on goal in the first minute. On the third shot on goal, Huskies goaltender Emma Polusny made a spectacular save by not allowing Abigail Boreen’s outside shot attempt to go in with her left leg collapsing on the puck just in time.

It wasn’t until the final minutes where the game finally broke it’s tie with an Olivia Cvar snipe off the Huskies first powerplay opportunity of the game. The Gophers perfect power play kill allowed their first score of the season.

The third period started out positive for Minnesota as Grace Zumwinkle returned the game to an even score at 1-1. After that goal, the Gophers continued their onslaught on Polusny but could not attain a solid lead until Zumwinkle, off of a gracious bounce from a faceoff deep in the St. Cloud State zone, cashed in once more to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead.

Lauren Bench for the remaining five minutes of the period was lights out in the net, stopping a few point-blank opportunities from St. Cloud State forward Jenniina Nylund. The Gophers won their first game on the 2021 calendar 2-1, and led in shots on goal 42-25.

This game was also the first time Amy Potomak received playing time since last March due to a foot injury. Head coach Brad Frost and teammate Grace Zumwinkle loved seeing No. 16 back on the ice.

“She certainly provides a great spark and some offensive creativity,” Frost said. “We as coaches love having back an added, and experienced, threat to give our roster some depth.”
Zumwinkle agreed on how important a piece Potomak is for the team.

“She brings so much to the locker room off the ice, but on the ice she brings so much added depth in our lineup so it was nice having her back,” she said.

Murphy and the Gophers start fast and furious

Unlike on Thursday, the Gophers got off to an electric groove on Satuday’s offense.

With under five minutes left in the contest, junior forward Catie Skaja made the game 1-0 on the Gophers seventh shot on goal of the game while holding the Huskies to zero. The Gophers did not allow defense a shot on goal for the first seven minutes and held St. Cloud to three shots on goal the entire period.

Soon, the Gophers capitalized once more as Taylor Heise scored for the Gophers to extend the Minnesota lead to 2-0. Nearing the end of the period, freshman Abbey Murphy scored two goals nearly back to back, with her second being a breakaway backhand goal to put the game out of reach in the first period.

The Gophers led 4-0 by the end of the first, as they outshot the Huskies 19-3. Frost was thoroughly impressed with his team’s performance in the period.

“Certainly the first period was the best period we’ve maybe had all year,” he said. “Really good job with our group putting the speed on and pressuring their defenseman. We had second and third chance opportunities with good shot selection.”

At the start of the second period, Makayla Pahl was in net for Minnesota as the Gophers sat Bench after the first. And the second featured a more valiant effort by the Huskies overall, with the Gophers being unable to score for the first 10 minutes. With seven minutes remaining in the period, Laura Kluge of St. Cloud scored her team’s first goal of the game off of a Zumwinkle slip-up on defense.

In the third period, the Gophers had two power play opportunities in the first five minutes of the game, but failed to capitalize. After a red-hot first period, the Gophers could not score anything against the backup St. Cloud State goalie Sanni Ahola, who replaced Polusny after the fourth Gophers goal.

The final score was 4-1 as the Gophers once again dominated the Huskies offensively, outshooting them 41-18 on Saturday.

Murphy, after her two-goal performance, said she’s been pleased with the experience to this point in her freshman year.

“I love it. It’s so much fun here, and even with all of the COVID stuff I’ve never been happier with my decision,” she said. “Playing on a team that is so tightly knitted together has been an honor and I’m very lucky to be here.”

Heise’s hat trick gives the Gophers the sweep

Another lightning quick beginning occurred in the Gophers third matchup against St. Cloud State, but this time it was an hour north of Minneapolis in St. Cloud.

Thirty-three seconds into the game, Heise, off a nice feed from Murphy, gave the Gophers an early lead. Sixteen minutes later in the first period, the Emily Oden, Murphy and Heise line found offensive success once more, as Heise scored again to give Minnesota a two-goal lead.

In the second period, both squads were unsuccessful on three power play opportunities for each team. Through the first 15 minutes, Ahola had seemed to rebound after a two-goal first period, yet Taylor Wente had other plans. Immediately after a waived-off goal, Wente’s first shot back at Ahola was good and it gave the Gophers a 3-0 advantage going into the final period.

In the third period, Heise secured the hat trick. With two minutes remaining in the game, she scored her third goal off assists from Murphy and Oden, who each notched their third assists of the game. In the net, Bench had 16 saves and her second shutout of the season.

“It was a great win on the road, solid effort. Heise, Oden, and Murphy, their line was tremendous again tonight. Heise with the hat trick, Lauren on her angles all night and controlling rebounds – all in all, it was a team win,” Frost said.

“We feel really good about these last three games. We’re excited about the day off tomorrow and then heading out to Wisconsin and having another great matchup with them.”

The No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup between border battle rivals will take place Friday and Saturday at 2:07 p.m., when the Gophers head to Madison, Wisconsin. Both games will be televised on BTN+.