There’s a famous victory phrase in Minnesota that basically sums up what Laker coach Mike Sisti does not want to hear at this juncture of the season: “Skiumah!” A year ago, he was only a month removed from an upset of second-ranked Quinnipiac on home ice. But there is much work to be done if he wants to return to national prominence, as evidenced by what transpired at the Mercyhurst Ice Center on Nov. 11.
After narrowly surviving an overtime upset the day before, fifth-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers returned to form, sending the Lakers to their worst start to a season in program history with a frustrating 5-2 defeat. The Lakers, taking their fourth loss in their last six, are now 7-22-4 in out-of-conference games since the start of the 2015 season. They have certainly had their chances but have just been unable to close out close contests. Nov. 10 was a markedly different contest for both teams, as Sisti was convinced that he could turn some skeptics’ heads for the course of the rest of the season.
But the Gophers killed that script before it could even get started after he was caught with a sixth player on the ice just 2:19 into overtime. Less than a minute later, the Gophers’ Nichole Schammel found herself with the puck in her offensive zone with all four Laker defenders in front of Laker goalie Sarah McDonnell (1-5-2, 2.56). Gopher Patti Marshall fooled Laker Sam Isbell on defense and found teammate Grace Zumwinkle on the left side of the zone. Her shot missed Hurst’s Callie Paddock and was turned aside by McDonnell just right of center. The Gophers’ Caitlin Reilly found the rebound, eluded Morgan Stacey at the goal line, pivoted to her right and back to her left, and sent a backhand to open ice as she spun out of control. The loose puck reached Minnesota’s Taylor Wente with seven skaters off to McDonnell’s peripheral as she one-timed into a nearly empty cage for her fifth of the season and the game-winner at 3:13 of overtime.
Before that, the Gophers had to kill off consecutive slashing calls on Olivia Knowles and Lindsay Agnew before Schammel took advantage of yet another penalty.
Schammel then found her sixth of the season from Wente and Zumwinkle just 12 seconds later. The two teams exchanged shot differentials in the next two periods, as McDonnell and Alex Gulstene (4-1-1, 1.94) combined to face 28 shots over the final 40 minutes of regulation, including 11 against McDonnell in the second and 15 off Gulstene in the third. But the Gophers again won the special-team battle, killing off all four calls against them, including a tripping call on Cara Piazza at 14:34 of the third. Less than four minutes later, Laker Michele Robillard found Maggie Knott as she fired the second-to-last of the Lakers’ 21 shots over Gopher goalie Gulstene’s shoulder with 1:43 left in regulation. Issues for the Lakers came early and often on Nov. 11, as the Gophers (9-4-1, 6-3-1 WCHA) needed just 15:43 to pick up right where they left off the previous night.
A shot by Hurst’s Samantha Fieseler was blocked by Schammel, and she immediately went the other direction and sent the pass to Wente, who redirected it for her fifth of the season. But after the Gophers’ Knowles was forced into an interference call, Reilly’s second assist of the period just missed the stick of Jennifer MacAskill as she found Katie Robinson for her first of the season. The Gophers still were not done capitalizing on mistakes, as an expiring power play allowed Sophie Skarzynksi to find Alex Woken for her second of the second. Meanwhile, the Gophers greeted Laker’s goaltender Kennedy Blair (1-3, 2.99) just as rudely, seizing momentum from yet another penalty. Schammel served a roughing minor for her goaltender, Sidney Peters (5-3, 2.28), called 1:38 into the second, but it was more than enough time for her and Alex Woken to set up Piazza on a breakaway just 38 seconds later for her fifth of the season. The Lakers did try to turn the tide after the second period. They did use some momentum from an expiring power play of their own.
It was just eight minutes and six Laker shots after the goal that Gopher Emily Brown was called for a roughing penalty of her own. Laker Isbell sent Celine Frappier’s pass past Peters for her first of the campaign just two seconds after the man-advantage expired. But the Lakers were outshot in that second period by a 9-7 margin, and it didn’t help that the two squads combined for 11 penalties. But they avoided such a call to open the third, as Knott took one of her 10 faceoff wins and turned it into her third of the season on a wrister after weaving all over her offensive zone.
Perhaps the Lakers’ best opportunity to close the margin further came on an advantageous 4-on-4 two minutes later after Laker MacAskill and Gopher Skarzynski were booked for respective holding and slashing calls. Peters needed just five saves the rest of the way, and a wide shot from Laker Sarah Hine with 2:36 left on the clock allowed Zumwinkle to fire her seventh of the season from her own end of the ice.