This weekend’s matchup with No. 3 North Dakota was Minnesota’s biggest road test of the season to date.
And it’s safe to say the top-ranked Gophers passed. Minnesota swept North Dakota, winning 5-1 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday.
“Anytime you go up to a hostile environment like Grand Forks and come away with six points and play extremely well, [it’s] a great thing,” head coach Brad Frost said.
North Dakota used a $1 ticket promotion to pack Ralph Engelstad Arena in the first game of the series. It set a school women’s hockey attendance record with 5,835 fans.
“It was just a great thing for women’s hockey in general having that many fans in the stands, regardless of who they were cheering for,” Frost said.
North Dakota struck first with a goal 7:39 into the first period Friday, but the Gophers were able to silence the record crowd with five unanswered goals.
“They got some great energy early on, and they scored fairly early. But it was a big answer for us coming back with that power-play goal, and then we were able to keep them pretty quiet the rest of the way,” Frost said.
Gophers freshman forward Dani Cameranesi said it was good for her team to experience an environment where a majority of the fans were cheering against them.
“I think experiencing that kind of fueled us a little bit to kind of keep the crowd silent and keep the crowd out of the game, and we did that,” she said.
On Friday, three of the unanswered goals were power-play goals, as were two more Saturday.
“We went 5-for-5 in the first five opportunities and sustained some good pressure in the other … power plays that we had late, so obviously [that was] a huge boost for our game,” Frost said.
Minnesota freshman forward Kate Schipper said the team had worked on the power play a lot in practice.
“A big part of our power play was just getting the puck on net, just digging in and … making the power plays count because we knew they were going to take penalties,” Schipper said.
Schipper was one of four players who scored a power-play goal for the Gophers over the weekend. She also added an even-strength goal — both in Friday’s game.
“She’s just getting to the scoring areas, and she’s less on the perimeter and more on down by the blue paint, which is where goals are scored,” Frost said.
Schipper has gained confidence each week, Frost said, which has been evident in practice and has translated into gameplay.
On Saturday, North Dakota gifted Minnesota five power-play chances, and the Gophers made their rivals pay for it.
Cameranesi converted on the first two power plays, which paced her team to the win.
North Dakota played without two of its top scorers — forwards Michelle Karvinen and Susanna Tapani — and defenseman Tanja Eisenschmid. All were out of the series in preparation for the Olympics.
Meghan Dufault, the team’s third-leading scorer, sat out due to injury.
“It was kind of a scary weekend … going up there as a coach knowing that they’re going to play desperate hockey and do everything they can to try and beat us,” Frost said. “I thought they gave a great effort, and fortunately, we gave a great effort too.”