They hadn’t skated in front of their fans since the NCAA championship game last March, hadn’t flaunted their incredible unbeaten streak in Ridder Arena in seven months. So Minnesota women’s hockey coach Brad Frost set aside some time before Friday’s home opener, a 2-1 victory over Wisconsin, to revel in the achievement, in the perfection, of that 2012-13 season.
Forty seconds, easy. Maybe 45.
“Let’s enjoy this, it’s a special thing,” Frost said he told his new team before graduated Gophers Katie Frischmann and Becky Kortum raised the Gophers’ fourth NCAA championship banner to the ceiling. “But as soon as it’s over, let’s focus on the puck drop.”
Frost had good reason to put those memories in the past. His team might be ranked No. 1 again and might have extended its NCAA-record winning streak to 52, but this is a young, less experienced team. Never last season did Minnesota appear as outgunned as they did in the second period against the Badgers. They were outshot 18-5 (and 30-11 through the first two periods), had to kill three penalties, and spent the entire period trying to cope with a swarm of Badgers in front of goaltender Amanda Leveille.
“Embarrassing,” Frost said of that second period. “We’re young. We’ve got to learn some lessons the hard way. For us, that second period, being embarrassed like that, was learning a lesson.”
Maybe, but here’s another lesson they learned: Leveille, a Canadian sophomore, is a more-than-worthy successor to Noora Raty, last year’s unbeatable goalie.
“Unbelievable. She really backed us up,” sophomore defenseman Milica McMillen said of Leveille, who in one particularly frantic Badger rush smothered three point-blank shots in 10 seconds. “It was a little scary. If Leveille wasn’t back there, it could have been a 5-1 game. It was an eye-opener.”
Leveille turned away 34 of 35 shots, and after being beaten over her left shoulder by an Erika Sowchuk deflection on a power play barely 11 minutes into the game, never let down again.
The Gophers didn’t panic, of course, even though it appeared their unbeaten streak was in jeopardy. They’ve given up the first goal in all three of their games this season, and rallied to win all three. “Obviously, we want to start a little quicker,” Frost said, “but the fact that we gave up the early goal and then held them scoreless the rest of the way speaks volumes, too.”
This time, it was sophomore forward Maryanne Menefee who tied the score less than two minutes after the Badgers’ goal. And, after Frost challenged the Gophers during the second intermission to forget they were being outplayed, McMillan scored the go-ahead goal at 7:12 of the third period, pulling up for a wrist shot 40 feet from the net and threading the puck through three defenders.
Minnesota killed the clock, snuffed any further Wisconsin scoring chances and beat the Badgers for the seventh consecutive game.
Kept the streak alive, too.
“You know, I didn’t think about that once, honestly,” said Frost, whose team will try to make it 53 in a row Saturday when it faces Wisconsin again at 4 p.m. “Part of that is because we were so frustrated.”
Nothing cures frustration like winning, though.