The No. 3 Gophers women’s hockey team opened its season with a stunning 4-3 loss to Merrimack on Friday night at Ridder Arena.
“We’ve got a lot of people in different positions, and that’s not an excuse,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “We’re embracing that, but this is our first little adversity of the season and it’s in Game 1. We will just keep grinding out and try to be better on Sunday.”
The Warriors (2-0) tied the score at 3-all just under four minutes into the second period. And, 1½ minutes later, Jessica Bonfe, a junior captain from Woodbury, got the eventual game-winner on a 2-on-0 rush.
Sophomore Lea-Kristine Demers made a career-high 54 saves for Merrimack, a third-year NCAA program from North Andover, Mass., that was 11-22-3 last season and was picked to finish eighth in Hockey East.
The Gophers are coming off a 26-8-5 season, which ended with a loss to Clarkson in the semifinals of the Women’s Frozen Four. A WCHA preseason coaches’ poll has picked them to finish first in the conference, but Minnesota lost its top six scorers.
The Gophers took a 1-0 lead on sophomore forward Kippin Keller’s goal at 12:11 of the first period. An unassisted Warriors goal tied it 1-all at 14:31.
Freshman Grace Zumwinkle and defenseman Olivia Knowles scored 16 seconds apart in the final minute of the opening period to put the Gophers ahead 3-1. But Merrimack cut that lead to 3-2 with just 13 seconds left.
“It’s one thing to give up goals, but the timeliness of it for them and the poor timing for us,” Frost said. “You get into the intermission and it’s 3-1, maybe it’s different. We talked as we were sending our five over the bench, ‘We cannot give one up,’ and it’s in our net and the momentum shifts.”
Sidney Peters started in goal for the Gophers; she had eight saves before being replaced by Alex Gulstene after giving up her fourth goal. Gulstene stopped seven shots.
Minnesota had been 19-1 all-time in season openers — and had not allowed more than three goals at home since 2010.