In all of 3½ minutes, it was over.
A 45-second video zipped through flashes of the 2014-15 University of Minnesota women’s hockey season — culminating in a third national championship in four years. Spotlights cut to the east end of Ridder Arena, where the program’s four most recent graduates stood atop the bleachers. Smiling, they hoisted a long maroon-and-gold banner into the crowded rafters while the current team, shoulder to shoulder on their blue line, cheered.
Banner raised. Enough celebration. There is more hockey to be played and, as the 2015-16 Gophers version showed a modest home crowd on Friday night, more dominant wins to be had. Minnesota (3-0-0) routed St. Cloud State (2-1-0) 7-0 in the first of a two-game set, giving the Gophers three shutouts this season and piling new celebrations on top of the old.
“We just thought we’d keep it pretty simple,” coach Brad Frost said of the banner celebration with a grin. “That’s about as dramatic as we can get right there.”
His team couldn’t offer much drama on the ice either.
After the Gophers started the season with seven goals in two games at Penn State last week, the No. 1-ranked team’s stout defense and powerful attack took another step forward, holding the Huskies to five shots while showering them with 38, and going 3-for-3 on power plays.
Kelly Pannek took a pass from Hannah Brandt and sneaked the puck in from the left side of the crease with 5:51 left, capping a raucous four-goal final period and a night in which Minnesota controlled the zone and all the momentum. After Minnesota went up 3-0 on Lee Stecklein’s first goal of the season — a bullet from just beyond the blue line — Cara Piazza, Dani Cameranesi and Milica McMillen reeled off three goals in a four-minute span. Pannek started the run in the first, and Cameranesi followed midway through the second period with her first goal of the night.
But the show on both ends wasn’t anything new for the spirited fans on site for the home opener — in the past four years, the Gophers faithful have been treated to a team that has been consistently elite in nearly all areas, landing in the top four nationally in scoring offense, scoring defense, goals, assists, points, shutouts and scoring margin each year.
Fans draped in maroon sweaters and gold T-shirts strolled through the doors early to celebrate the most recent proof of that, and to collect their free replica mini-banners. Anna (12), Erin (10) and Katie (7) Palony scampered around their father, Mark and across the concourse, eager for their ponytailed heroes to take the ice. Ten-year-old Anneka Dahlberg was in her seat early, buried under a Gophers stocking cap, Gophers earrings, Gophers sunglasses and an oversized jersey worn like a dress. “I want to be a Gopher when I grow up,” she announced.
When the lights finally dimmed and new banner was unfurled, it was more circumstance than pomp. This team, which returned seven of its top 10 scorers from that squad, is accustomed to greatness. But those veterans, along with nine newcomers, made it clear quickly that they’re not done.
“It’s great to relive that memory one more time,” Cameranesi said. “Seeing it finally put up there is awesome, but it also kind of signified the end of last season and the beginning of this season with the new team and everything. And I think it got us all excited.”