Rival Wisconsin tested the Gophers this weekend, even outplaying them at times.
But resilience is a mark of a good team, and the Gophers managed to fight through to extend their winning streak to 53 games.
No. 1 Minnesota came away with 2-1 and 2-0 wins over No. 4 Wisconsin after separating itself in the third period of both games.
In three of its first four games this season, Minnesota has entered the locker room knotted up after two periods.
“Our team has been here before … and we’ve been able to come out with the win each time,” head coach Brad Frost said Saturday. “It was great to see our kids push forward.”
Minnesota fell behind midway through the first period Friday on a Wisconsin power-play goal.
The Gophers tied it up shortly after when a shot by senior forward Kelly Terry deflected off sophomore forward Maryanne Menefee for a power-play tally.
Wisconsin dominated most of the second period, and Frost said his team was lucky to escape with a tied score.
“We’re young and we’ve got to learn some lessons the hard way,” he said Friday. “And for us, that second period and being embarrassed like that was learning a lesson.”
Minnesota was outshot 18-5 in the period. Sophomore goalie Amanda Leveille said communication could have been better between her and her defense in the second period.
“In the third, we figured it out,” she said.
Minnesota was accustomed to outplaying teams last season, and sophomore defenseman Milica McMillen called it “a little scary” to be on the other side of the coin.
“If [Leveille] wasn’t back there, it could have been a 5-1 game by the end of the second,” McMillen said. “So I think it was a little eye-opener for us.”
Frost said the team knew how “embarrassing” the second frame was, and he was proud of the way it was able to “forget” it in the third.
“We were still in a tie game even though it didn’t feel like it,” Frost said. “All we had to do was win a period.”
And they did.
The Gophers looked noticeably better in the third and used a timely power-play goal by McMillen to seal the win.
McMillen picked up the puck during a Minnesota change and riffled a hard shot past multiple Wisconsin defenders and goalie Alex Rigsby.
On the other end of the ice, Leveille made a number of crucial saves to keep her team in the game.
Frost said Friday was really the first time Leveille’s back was up against the wall, and so giving up only one goal was special.
Leveille continued her stellar play Saturday with her first shutout of the season. She made 27 saves in the process.
Leveille took over the net from All-America goalie Noora Räty, who graduated after last season. Terry said the sophomore has performed well early this season.
“We’re just getting more and more confident in her,” Terry said. “Eventually it’s just like having Noora back there again because she’s just doing amazing.”
Leveille kept her team in a scoreless game, warding off 11 shot attempts in both the first and second periods.
Terry collected a rebound and gave Minnesota the lead 5:42 into the third period.
Wisconsin looked as if it had tied the game shortly after that , but the play was reviewed and overturned.
Minnesota widened its lead later in the period when senior defenseman Baylee Gillanders took a shot, which Terry was able to redirect into the net.
“I saw it coming, and I just tried to tip it in,” Terry said. “I was actually kind of worried it’d be a high-sticking, but it went through.”
The line consisting of Terry, freshman forward Kate Schipper and freshman Dani Cameranesi generated scoring chances all night Saturday. Cameranesi said she thought the trio works well together because they’re all speedy skaters.
That line was rewarded twice Saturday, and Terry said she was joking around with the freshmen that the first goal might have opened the floodgates for them.
Minnesota will have a chance to see if that comes to fruition next weekend when it heads up north to play Minnesota-Duluth.