MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. — The St. Thomas women’s hockey team was looking to start off the second half of the season on a good note this weekend, but instead, it was a really bad one.

After getting shut out (8-0) by No. 5-ranked Minnesota on Saturday, things went slightly better for UST on Sunday as it picked up a couple goals. But the end result was a blowout loss as the Tommies fell 8-2 in a WCHA game. Abigail Boreen notched a hat trick in the game to lead the Golden Gophers (11-4-1 WCHA, 16-5-1 overall).

Tommies associate head coach Bethany Brausen wasn’t focused on the final score and said this weekend was about improving and growth.

“We’ve been all about growth, obviously, this year as we transition to Division I,” said Brausen, whose team has lost 10 straight and dropped to 2-13-1 in the WCHA and 4-15-1 overall. “The players know that too and they’re more bought in than we could ever ask them to be. So, we looked at Day 1 yesterday and had a tougher start in the first period and we responded with a great first period here today.

"And then, obviously it never feels great when the score gets lopsided, but there’s so many things to celebrate throughout that game. Lots of adjustments and overall, a really good game plan.”

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Not surprisingly, the Gophers started putting pressure on the Tommies early and with 13:43, they got on the scoreboard. Boreen got a pass by the left post and shot the puck off UST goalie Alexa Dobchuk’s pad and in. Midway through the period, and while on the power play, Minnesota almost padded their lead as Crystalyn Hengler sent a good shot from the blue line. However, Dobchuk swung her pad out in time and kicked it aside.

With under eight minutes left, the Gophers again almost got their second goal as Catie Skaja got a pass in the slot and almost roofed it over Dobchuk, but it was immediately waved off. The only real scoring chance for the Tommies came with about 1:40 left as Lauren Stenslie skated in hard, but her shot rang off the crossbar and out. Shortly after that, Boreen got Minnesota that elusive second goal as a shot from Taylor Heise went off the crossbar and right to her and she snapped it past Dobchuk to make it 2-0 going into the second.

St. Thomas' Luci Bianchi (left) celebrates with teammate Lauren Stenslie after her shorthanded goal during a game against Minnesota in a WCHA women's hockey game Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Mendota Heights, Minn. Shannon Stieg / Special to The Rink Live
St. Thomas' Luci Bianchi (left) celebrates with teammate Lauren Stenslie after her shorthanded goal during a game against Minnesota in a WCHA women's hockey game Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Mendota Heights, Minn. Shannon Stieg / Special to The Rink Live

UST caught a break early in the second period to cut the deficit to one. The Tommies were trying to kill a penalty and after clearing the puck, Minnesota goalie Lauren Bench misplayed the puck and it was recovered by UST’s Luci Bianchi. She then weaved around a sprawling Bench and got the Tommies on the board at the 2:43 mark. That was the first shorthanded goal given up by the Gophers since the 2019-20 season.

“I honestly don’t really know (what happened with the goal),” Bianchi said with a laugh. “I saw her out of the net and I think maybe on the boards, it bounced weird and it just got to me, and I somehow banked it in. It was lucky and I was really surprised that it happened.”

The momentum didn’t last though for the Tommies. UST committed a costly hooking penalty that led to a goal by Peyton Hemp at the 7:59 mark and two minutes later, Amy Potomak got a pass by the left post and scored into an open net to make it 4-1 Gophers. Heise kept Minnesota’s surge going with a nice goal at the 12:21 mark and Emily Zumwinkle scored just 18 seconds later to push the Gophers’ advantage to 6-1 heading into the third.

With 18:23 remaining in the third, Boreen completed her hat trick with a power play tally to make it 7-1 Gophers. UST did get one more goal with 11:41 remaining on a good effort by Stenslie as she skated hard into the crease and lifted a rebound over Bench. At the 10:26 mark, Skaja finished off the scoring in the game to get Minnesota’s lead back to six. After the Skaja goal, Tommies backup goalie Eryn Cooley played the remaining minutes in net.

UST travels to Wisconsin next week, while the Gophers have a home and home series with Minnesota State. Even though this is probably the roughest stretch of the season for the Tommies, Stenslie said they’re staying positive.

“We’ve come so far from the beginning of the season and to play the top teams like Minnesota, and Wisco and (Minnesota) Duluth and those teams, I think this was a huge growing period and we can’t wait to play them (again) soon,” she said. “We want to play them again tomorrow because we’re so excited.”