University of Minnesota Duluth junior forward Vanessa Thibault may have owned the night's first shot on goal, but the University of Minnesota women's hockey team controlled the scoreboard Saturday evening.
After starting the 2012 schedule with an impressive win over the top-ranked Gophers Friday, No. 8 UMD (12-9-1 overall, 9-8-1 WCHA) struggled to control the puck in the zone against an aggressive forecheck, splitting the series at Amsoil Arena with a 3-0 loss to Minnesota.
"It was a fast and physical game," UMD head coach Shannon Miller said. "We had a really good first period and an exceptional third period, but our second period cost us the game."
Minnesota (16-4-1, 13-4-1) out-shot UMD 34-29, putting 15 more shots on net through the first two periods to control the tempo early on. The Bulldogs struggled to get on the same page offensively, and the Gophers took advantage, transitioning turnovers into a strong presence inside the UMD zone.
The third period saw a different offensive mindset from the Bulldogs, as UMD controlled play to put 16 shots on goal, holding Minnesota to just six in the final 20 minutes.
The Bulldogs' first power play midway through the first period forced Minnesota off a strong forecheck early on, but the Gophers were able to shut down the passing lanes, riding the penalty kill momentum to grab some good scoring opportunities around the 10-minute mark. Senior goaltender Jenny Harss sent away the first nine shots on goal before the tenth finally slipped through as Minnesota's senior forward Sarah Erickson collected the puck in front of the net, spun and flipped it into the net.
Harss recorded 12 of her 31 saves in the first period.
The Gophers expanded the lead on their first shot of the second period, intercepting a pass out in front of the net, and beating UMD down the ice for a breakaway goal. Sophomore forward Amanda Kessel was essentially all alone on the break, finding the back of the net with a deke and backhanded shot just 24 seconds into period.
UMD's best scoring opportunity came as junior center Katie Wilson intercepted a Minnesota pass inside the Gopher's zone, and had a clear path to the net. The shot just cleared the top of the crossbar, nearly cutting Minnesota's lead to one.
Wilson said the Bulldogs just couldn't get to their second-chance opportunities.
"We weren't getting to the rebounds quick enough," she said. "We needed to go harder to the net and bury our rebounds. Tonight Raty stood on her head for Minnesota and we just weren't getting to the rebounds."
Instead, it was the Gophers continuing a steady barrage of shots and finishing off the second period with their third goal, an Erickson one-timer from just outside the crease. It was the only power play goal of the contest, coming with 1:48 remaining.
The Gophers outshot UMD 15-6 in the second period alone - something Miller said came not only from Minnesota's defensive intensity, but also as a result of UMD trying to be too perfect, offensively.
"We were trying to be too fancy," Miller said. "We tried to make too much happen. We would get down (into the zone) and get a nice pass, but then we would try to make one more pass and lose the puck. It cost us some good shot opportunities. We were just a little bit too pretty."
After failing to put a shot on net during a brief 5-on-3 advantage midway through a scoreless third period, the Bulldogs looked sharp in their last two power play opportunities. UMD held the zone for the majority of the final three minutes, and came inches from ending the shutout as senior center Hailey Irwin slid the puck across the crease and squarely into the side post before Minnesota goalie Noora Raty could locate and clear it to the corner.
Despite the 3-0 loss, Miller was very upbeat about the Bulldogs' third-period play, and said there was plenty the team could take away from this series, with another top team in No. 2 Wisconsin coming to Duluth next weekend.
"We split with the top-ranked team in the country, and that alone should give us a boost of confidence," Miller said. "On top of that, we learned how hard we are going to have work if we want to be in the top four this year. Looking at our third period, I just say 'wow.' The energy and confidence I saw in the third period tonight is what we want for the Wisconsin series moving forward."