More than anything, the Gophers’ two exhibition games this weekend gave them the opportunity to tinker with lines, try players at different positions and generally ease back into on-ice competition.
And amid all that, the team racked up a 6-0 victory over Team Japan on Thursday and a 7-0 win over the University of British Columbia on Friday.
“It’s huge for us because we need all the exhibition games and practice games that we can get with the young team,” head coach Brad Frost said after Thursday’s game. “With all our freshmen here, it’s important to put them in different spots.”
Team Japan has qualified for the 2014 Winter Olympics, and Gophers senior captain Bethany Brausen said competing against Japan was a special opportunity.
“To play a team that’s at that Olympic caliber and see them developing as we’re developing … was really something else,” she said.
The Gophers jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period against Team Japan thanks to a goal from junior forward Meghan Lorence.
Brausen said the team had “jitters” early in the game, but it “really settled in” during the second period.
The Gophers netted three goals in the second, including one from freshman forward Dani Cameranesi. It was the first of her career, but it doesn’t count as an official goal.
“I was told after [the goal] that I didn’t get a puck because it’s not really a real game, so I need to do it again,” Cameranesi said.
Brausen said everybody started to play more confidently and comfortably in the second and third periods.
“[Frost] reminded us, ‘You guys are hockey players. You have been for 18-plus years … so let’s go out there. We know the systems. Let’s just run it like we know how to do.’” Brausen said.
Lorence tallied her second goal of the game in the third period on an assist from Brausen to cap off the team’s scoring.
Minnesota’s second game of the weekend was similar in score, but better in execution.
“I thought tonight we looked more like a hockey team,” Frost told reporters after the game Friday night. “Last night, it felt like chuck-a-puck a little bit, but I thought tonight we started to do a lot of really good things offensively.”
After blanking on six power plays against Team Japan, the Gophers netted two power-play goals in the matchup with British Columbia.
Junior forward Rachael Bona had two goals, including a shorthanded goal for Minnesota in the third period, and freshman forward Kate Schipper collected two goals on four shots Friday for Minnesota.
Frost said after the game he thought British Columbia came at the Gophers with a lot of “pace and tempo.”
“In the second and third [periods] after they got comfortable with our pace and play and really pushed us, [they] forced us to push back a little bit,” he told reporters.
Sophomore Amanda Leveille started both games in net for the Gophers.
She didn’t face a single shot in the first period from Team Japan but wound up recording 13 saves in Thursday’s win. She recorded eight saves in two periods Friday before junior Shyler Sletta took over.
Though Minnesota is still toying with its defensive pairings, it only allowed 22 shots on goal all weekend — a fraction of the 102 shots the Gophers fired on net.
Frost said after the game Thursday that by the time the team plays Wisconsin in a couple weeks, it’s “going to be pretty solidified at that position, hopefully.”
Minnesota opens its regular season Oct. 4-5 with two games at Colgate, a team it outscored 18-0 last season.