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Vermont, Minnesota victorious in Windjammer Classic semifinals

Gophers’ offense condemns Saints; Catamounts whitewash Orange

The Windjammer Classic kicked off at Gutterson Fieldhouse Friday, with a top ten showdown between Minnesota and St. Lawrence followed by hosts Vermont taking on Syracuse.

Let’s break down these two games.

Minnesota 8, St. Lawrence 2

Potentially the most-anticipated game of the tournament, the top ten showdown did...not really go the way anyone expected.

That St. Lawrence team that took to the ice didn’t look like the team that upset Clarkson or gave BC a run for their money. And the Gophers’ offense flexed their muscles as a result.

The Gophers controlled much of the first period, and if it weren’t for some big saves by Grace Harrison, the Saints could’ve been down 2-0 very quickly. But late in the period the Saints had a golden opportunity to build momentum, as Minnesota took two penalties on the same play to give SLU a 5 on 3.

The 5-on-3 for two minutes is the ultimate chance to really build momentum. You establish zone time, control the tempo, string together passes and generate shots, and even if you’re unsuccessful you can still build off one where you threaten.

Unfortunately for the Saints, it turned into the exact opposite: a total buzzkill that gave the other team the momentum. They turned the puck over at the blueline, and Taylor Wente went all the way, ripping the puck over Harrison’s shoulder to give the Gophers the lead on a 5-on-3 shorthanded goal.

SLU was shell-shocked after that, and the Gophers out-skated, out-muscled, out-hustled, and just outplayed them. The Saints did seemingly have a chance at pulling themselves back in the game after Nadine Edney’s second-period power play goal that was originally called as an excellent save by Alex Gulstene, but they conceded not even a minute later, torpedoing any momentum they could have built.

Minnesota rolled four lines with minimal dropoff, and got plenty of offense from their blueline, paced by three points by Olivia Knowles and a pair of goals by Sophie Skarzynski. And it goes without saying that Kelly Pannek had a pretty dang good game, given that she scored a hat trick and finished the night with four points. Their speed was very evident, as St. Lawrence didn’t seem to know how to contain it, and boy did it show - the Saints comparatively looked like they were skating in quicksand.

Perhaps most impressive from Minnesota though was the play of their forwards. They were seemingly all over the ice, backchecking relentlessly, and when they had the puck there was a very good chance they weren’t leaving the offensive zone. Their PK was also excellent, the Edney goal aside, scoring a pair of shorthanded goals and overall making it tough for St. Lawrence to set up their own power play.

Vermont 2, Syracuse 0

There’s always a debate in sports over who should win the MVP. Some see it as a “best player in the league” award, while others see it as “the player who was most important in a team’s success.” If we’re judging by the best player on the day, that award probably goes to Pannek, Knowles, or Skarzynski from Minnesota. But if we’re talking about the latter, the most important player to their team’s success, the MVP of today was Vermont goalie Melissa Black.

Vermont actually led most of the game, opening the scoring just over three minutes in on a rip from the slot by Theresa Schafzahl. They’d add an insurance marker midway through the second on Sammy Kolowrat’s wrister from the point through traffic.

But Black was the big player for UVM. She stopped all 30 shots she saw, and was absolute money in the third period, making 12 saves and killing a late penalty when the Catamounts needed her most.

Outside of her, the most impressive Vermont players for me was the duo of Schafzahl and Ève-Audrey Picard. It is easy to say that given that their line was the one that generated both goals, but they were also excellent defensively; it was the pressure of this duo that drew the penalty that led to the second Catamount goal.

Vermont now heads to the championship game of their home tournament for the third year in a row, and for the second time in that span it is against a top-5 team (they played Clarkson in 2016-17). The Catamounts split with the Gophers at Ridder Arena last season, but these two teams are quite a bit different this year - the Gophers have their Olympians back and the Catamounts are a little younger. Will Vermont get over the hump and win their tournament for the first time? Or will the favored Gophers earn their first title in what they hope to be a trophy-laden season?

Tune in tomorrow to find out.