Lauren Bench stood on the goal line before the season opener for the Gophers women’s hockey team on Saturday afternoon and saw something strange during the pregame hype video on the Ridder Arena scoreboard.
Her giving up a goal.
Bench, the Gophers’ new starting goalie, was wearing Bemidji State’s green and white in that video, having spent the past four years with the Beavers before joining Minnesota as a graduate transfer.
You won’t, however, find footage of Bench giving up a goal wearing the Gophers’ maroon and gold; it doesn’t exist yet. That’s because she gobbled up, turned aside or smothered all 36 shots she faced in fourth-ranked Minnesota’s 4-0 victory over No. 5 Ohio State.
“It was everything and more,’’ the Eagan native said about what she hoped for from her Gophers debut. “Who isn’t happy about a shutout in their first game? It was a lot of fun.’’
Gophers coach Brad Frost agreed.
“Lauren Bench did a tremendous job for us,’’ he said. “She was very in control, not giving up rebounds, and when she did, our ‘D’ was there to clear it. Just a great start to the year.’’
That great start came quickly, when Grace Zumwinkle scored the first of her two goals 28 seconds into the game. Staked to that 1-0 lead, the Gophers had to weather a storm for most of the game’s first 30 minutes from a speedy Buckeyes team that returned nine of its top 10 scorers and starting goalie. Ohio State outshot the Gophers 12-3 in the first period and 36-18 for the game.
“They sustain a lot of pressure, and at times we handled it and at times we didn’t,’’ said Frost, whose team was set to host the Buckeyes last March 14 in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal at Ridder Arena, but two days earlier the coronavirus pandemic had prompted the shutdown of sports.
What the Gophers might have lacked in offensive volume in the first two periods, they more than made up for in scoring efficiency. Zumwinkle’s first goal came on Minnesota’s first shot. The Gophers’ second goal, by freshman defenseman Josey Dunne, came 30:02 later and was the team’s sixth shot on goal to Ohio State’s 17 at that point.
Dunne’s goal gave a boost of energy to the Gophers, who spent most of the next five minutes in the Ohio State zone. Freshman winger Abbey Murphy, the WCHA preseason rookie of the year, won a few puck battles and helped sway the momentum, too.
“Our freshmen played pretty well from an offensive standpoint,’’ Frost said of his seven first-year players. “From a defensive standpoint, Maggie Nicholson played great. … And I think you saw some flashes of Murph, where she’s able to get up and down the ice.’’
A lift from Murphy helped because the Gophers were playing without senior forward Amy Potomak, out “for a little while’’ because of undisclosed surgery in October, Frost said.
The most impactful newcomer, of course, was Bench, who graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bemidji State and is pursuing a master’s degree in kinesiology from Minnesota. Afterward, she admitted the Gophers hype video was something she enjoyed, even with the Beavers.
“Who doesn’t get excited when they’re talking about national championships?’’ she said.