The Gophers women’s hockey team started the journey toward its second trophy of the season in record fashion, of course.
Minnesota, which has been setting records nearly every weekend this season, beat Bemidji State 5-0 on Friday and 8-0 on Saturday at Ridder Arena in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
The Gophers extended their winning streak to 44 games and cemented their spot in the WCHA Final Face-off next weekend.
Senior goaltender Noora Räty also broke the NCAA Division I career shutout record Friday and season shutout record Saturday. She now has 41 career shutouts and 15 this season.
Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said the shutout records seemed out of reach at the start of the season. But the seasoned goaltender proved him wrong.
“She’s the backbone of our team and really has been for our program here over the last four years,” Frost said.
Räty, who had 20 saves Friday and 19 Saturday, said she doesn’t think about shutouts in terms of records.
“As long as I get a shutout, we can’t lose,” Räty said.
Räty wasn’t the only player with a record-breaking weekend. Senior defender Megan Bozek set Minnesota’s single-season record for points by a defender with 52. Bozek scored two goals Friday and had a goal and two assists Saturday.
“We have a great defensive core this year,” Bozek said. “And all six of us can rush the puck, shoot the puck, skate the puck.”
Junior defender Baylee Gillanders scored her first goal of the season Saturday, and senior forward/defender Katie Frischmann scored her second goal. The Gophers had eight goal scorers Saturday.
“It’s great that Baylee, Katie and Brook [Garzone] all got goals today,” Bozek said Saturday. “It’s playoff hockey, and anything can happen. And for people to step up right now is really big for our team.”
The need for a diverse set of scorers was even more apparent with the absence of junior forward Amanda Kessel.
Kessel sat out last weekend’s games against St. Cloud State to rest from an undisclosed injury. Minnesota scored only five goals in two wins against the Huskies.
The NCAA’s leading scorer played only three power-play shifts and one regular shift Friday. She dressed Saturday but did not play. Sophomore forward Rachael Bona moved into her position.
Frost said while playing without Kessel isn’t ideal, it showed the depth of his team.
“Teams can try and shut down one line,” Frost said, “but it’s going to be hard to shut down all three plus our [defense].”
Saturday’s game also gave Minnesota’s penalty kill a chance to shine.
The Gophers were down two players late in the second period. Frost said he doesn’t like his team to be shorthanded, but “it’s another opportunity to rise to the occasion.”
They did just that, scoring a shorthanded goal, one of their five goals in the second period.
Bozek said it’s easy to take Räty’s saves against lower-ranked teams for granted, but the goaltender earned her shutout during Bemidji State’s power play.
Bemidji State had eight shots in the first two periods but picked up its offense as the game progressed, finishing with 19 shots.
“I was pretty much just standing there for 35 minutes, so my legs were absolutely burning,” Räty said.”
Both teams started slowly Friday. Neither team scored in the first period after a Gophers goal was disallowed 13 minutes in.
Bozek said her team didn’t let the lost goal dampen its performance.
“The call could have gone either way, and I think that gave us a little momentum, to be honest,” Bozek said Friday.
Räty said she knew a few players on the team were nervous heading into the playoffs, but once the second period started, they shook the nerves.
“The way we played, even the last two weekends, I feel like we didn’t play at our best,” Räty said Saturday. “This was like a whole different team. I feel like they played with more passion and pride than I’ve seen them play in the last few weeks.”