At the halfway point in last year’s season, the Gophers were 20-0-0.
This year, they’re 19-1-0 —second-best in the team’s history.
That’s an accomplishment in itself, but it’s even more impressive considering the team lost an impactful group of players, including three All-Americans, to graduation and the U.S. national team.
The Gophers concluded the first part of their season during the weekend, sweeping Ohio State on the road with 9-2 and 5-1 victories.
Minnesota outshot the Buckeyes 83-39 and limited Ohio State to just 13 shots on goal Sunday afternoon.
On Saturday, junior forward Rachael Bona led the Gophers offensively, recording the first hat trick of her career and adding an assist.
Bona and seven others recorded multiple points Saturday, with four forwards — senior Sarah Davis, junior Meghan Lorence, sophomore Hannah Brandt and freshman Dani Cameranesi — all registering three points.
Bona and Davis, who have played on the same line lately, had particularly big weekends for Minnesota.
The duo has played on the same power-play unit this season. Head coach Brad Frost said he wanted to see if that chemistry would translate if the two played together on the same line.
It has. Bona had six points, and Davis had five during the weekend.
This season, Minnesota has emphasized finishing the series strong, and it did that Sunday.
Frost said he wanted his players to “leave it all out there and play as well as they could,” as it was the final game before a long break.
Sunday’s game was highly physical, with the two teams combining to take 20 penalties.
Senior captain Bethany Brausen said Ohio State turned to its physicality in the second period, when Minnesota led.
“I think that they kind of used that as a crutch because we were winning the game pretty decisively at that point,” Brausen said.
In the second period, with Minnesota up 4-1, Ohio State’s sophomore defenseman Cara Zubko received a five-minute major penalty and game disqualification for checking Davis from behind.
“It was probably the worst hit from behind that I’ve seen in my years of coaching women’s hockey, so I’m glad Sarah ended up being OK,” Frost said.
Bona was sent to the penalty box at the same time for roughing, but Minnesota scored on the 4-on-4 opportunity.
“They went to their strengths in the second [period], and that was being physical,” Davis said. “It was just getting a little bit out of hand.”
Minnesota will not play again until January, when it faces Ohio State again.
Davis said the 19-1-0 start has exceeded her expectations.
She credited the coaches for keeping the team motivated, and said she thinks of this team as a “blue-collar team.”
“We’re 19-1-0, so people from the outside might think of us as more of a finesse team, but I don’t think they understand the amount of work we put in,” Davis said. “There have been some hard-fought battles this year, and I think it is a tribute to our character.”
Because the team entered this year with only three returning defensemen, a main focus this season has been building a solid defensive core.
The Gophers have rotated some players on the blue line in the first half of the season, and the defense has made significant progress since the first series.
This year’s team has also had a relatively balanced scoring attack, with players stepping up and taking on more of a scoring role.
“I’m very proud of our players for buying in and coming together and playing as well as they did in the first half,” Frost said.