Off for just over a month, the University of Minnesota women's hockey team showed few signs of rink rust.
Sophomore forward Hannah Brandt needed just 23:01 to net her 2nd career hat trick. Freshman forward Dani Cameranesi scored twice as the Gophers defeated Ohio State University 6-0 Friday night.
Three different players - Brandt, Cameranesi and senior Kelly Terry - had three points for an offense that out-shot the Buckeyes 43-28.
"A great start, obviously, to 2014 here," Gopher head coach Brad Frost said. "I thought we showed some rust in the whole game on certain things with our passing and being strong on our sticks, but obviously to come out of the first period with a 3-0 lead and not being perfect certainly helps."
Playing in front of 2,276 home fans for Rock Ridder Night (tickets were promoted at $1), Minnesota (20-1-0, 14-1-0-0 WCHA) picked up where it left off; playing its best hockey of the season. Ohio State (7-12-2, 2-11-2-0 WCHA) had the game's first two shots before Brandt tallied the first of her three goals 2:03 into the game when she tapped home linemate Kate Schipper's pass on the back door.
Brandt's line, which also features sophomore Maryanne Menefee, was all over the ice in the first ten minutes of the game. It gave the Gophers a spark the team needed coming off so long of a break.
"I thought we started off really good right off the bat," said Brandt, who leads the team in scoring with 36 points (13G-23A). "We had a good week of practice and we were just clicking and passing the puck really well, and they hit me in the slot a few times, so it worked out well for us tonight."
Cameranesi scored the first of her two goals 7:09 into the game when the freshman put a Terry rebound past Buckeyes goaltender Lisa Steffies. Brandt added her second of the night 7 minutes later on the power play and then, with Cameranesi assisting, completed her first hat trick since her first game freshman year with three goals that maybe went a combined 5 feet.
Brandt's hat trick is the second from a Gopher in the last 3 games; all of which were played against the Buckeyes. Rachel Bona did so December 7th in Columbus during a 9-2 UMN win.
Steffies made 23 saves before Buckeyes captain Chelsea Knapp relieved her for the third period. Although Brandt believed Minnesota could have gotten a few more goals, Ohio State head coach Nate Handrahan was happy with his goaltending Friday.
"When you give them the kind of firepower they have, tap-ins," he said, "it's a recipe for what happened. I do think our goaltending and compete level was a heck of a lot better than the score indicated."
Cameranesi, who spent much of the time off playing pond hockey to work on her hands, made it 5-0 11:40 into the second period with a second effort for her 12th goal of the season.
"It's just a matter of getting to the net and who wants it more, who has more desire to puck in the net," she said. "I think a lot of times it comes down to heart."
Minnesota sophomore goalie Amanda Leveille made 28 saves, including one falling backwards in the third period to preserve her 6th shutout of the season. Frost said after the game that it was the best performance the Kingston, Ontario native had as a Gopher.
"She was square to the puck and made a lot of hard saves look easy," he added.
Bona added a late goal for Minnesota, who finishes a two game series with the Buckeyes tomorrow night at 6 p.m. CT. Getting back at it after a month off isn't always easy, but despite a few signs like penalties - both teams had 8 in the game - the Gophers appeared to be the team that played week. Not the other way around.
"Anytime you shut out a good opponent like that, it's a good night," said Frost.
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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate