Familiar Faces Lead Minnesota Women to Season-Opening Win

(image credit: Brad Rempel)

Opening the season trailing after 20 minutes, the Gophers went to some familiar faces to get on the winning track against No. 10 Mercyhurst.

No. 3 Minnesota scored four unanswered goals after changing lines, defeating the Lakers 4-2 in the season opener for both teams. Kelly Pannek and Sarah Potomak, in their return to wearing the maroon and gold, each finished with two points.

“We just needed something to spark some energy and that happened to be changing lines,” said Pannek, who spent the 2017-18 season winning an Olympic gold medal with the United States national team. “What was really cool is that everyone responded so well to it. You saw four units go out there and possess the puck, make awesome plays and it was really fun to see everyone gel and click like that so quickly.”

Minnesota (1-0-0, 0-0-0-0 WCHA) began the game with its top forwards spread out across all four lines. Head coach Brad Frost wanted to have balance, however, the team wasn’t able to pressure Mercyhurst (0-1-0, 0-0-0 CHA) goaltender Kennedy Blair.

Instead, the Lakers got chances and made the most of a 12 second power play when Emma Nuuitinen shot the puck past sophomore goalie Alex Gulstene.

“I told them I wanted to go with this for a while and you made this last one period,” said Frost.

Minnesota came out in the second period reuniting Nicole Schammel, Taylor Wente and Grace Zumwinkle from last season. Pannek and Potomak were reunited from 2016-17. Joining them was Sarah’s younger sister, Amy, playing her first collegiate game after redshirting last season to try out for Hockey Canada’s Olympic team (as did Sarah).

After Patti Marshall tied the game on a slap shot 8:22 into the second period, the Gophers took the lead with 1:31 remaining. Pannek heard a wide open Amy and got her the puck with a no-look pass. The freshman finished for Potomak’s first career goal and her 100th career assist.

“It’s really cool to be a part of that, but at the same time I love to make plays and have been really fortunate enough to play with great players who put the puck into the net,” Pannek said. “I’d have zero assists if they didn’t score.”

Sophomore defender Emily Brown beat Blair, who finished with 24 saves, with a wrist shot in the opening minute of the third period to give Minnesota a 3-1 lead. Pannek got her first goal of the season less than four minutes later, finishing a dominant shift by her line.

“The Potomaks and Pannek are threats every time,” Frost said.

Getting the nod over transfer Sydney Scobee, Gulstene finished with 21 saves.

The sophomore stopped several odd-man rushes and kept the Gophers in the game during the first period. Emily Pinto scored late for Mercyhurst, but Gulstene stood tall and stopped Nuutinen on the ensuing power play.

“As a goalie, very rarely do you get shutouts or perfect games. You’re going to get scored on so it’s just learning to adapt to that,” said Gulstene, who found she was starting Thursday. “I have my teammates to lean on and they saved my butt a couple times. They’re supporting me and we all came together. We talked a lot and made sure the defense knew where I was and I knew where they were. We bounced back from that.”

Spending much of the second half of last season on the bench, Gulstene was another old face in a new place. The sophomore got the start because of her hard work over the summer and being a returning player.


  • Before the game recently graduated senior Cara Piazza unveiled a banner in honor of the team winning the 2018 WCHA Final Faceoff.
  • Gopher Olympians Dani Cameranesi (USA), Lee Stecklein (USA) and Mira Jalosuo (Finland) dropped the ceremonial opening puck. Facing off were two more Olympians: Pannek and Mercyhurst’s Nuutinen, who played with Jalosuo for bronze-medalists Finland.
  • Minnesota and Mercyhurst play again at Ridder Arena Saturday afternoon at 4:00 pm.

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