MINNEAPOLIS- Few freshmen were better last season than Kelly Pannek. The Plymouth, MN native led all rookies with 44 points and played a key role on Minnesota's national championship team alongside linemate and fellow second-year forward Cara Piazza.
Neither sophomore appears to be slumping in the early going this season.
Pannek opened and closed the scoring for Minnesota (3-0-0, 1-0-0-0 WCHA) with her second consecutive two-goal game as the Gophers opened conference play with a convincing 7-0 win over St. Cloud State.
Her line also contributed. St. Cloud State focused a lot of energy on #1 ranked Minnesota's first line and its second made the Huskies pay Piazza, celebrating her birthday, scored her first goal of the season. Third member of the line Kate Schipper had 3 assists. .
"Me, Cara Piazza and Kate Schipper work really well together," said Pannek, who leads the Gophers with 6 points. "We're really good and communicating on the ice and off the ice. We're on the same wavelength. It's really easy playing with them and we all have the same ideas in our heads."
The Gophers went 3 for 3 on the power play led by Dani Cameranesi's two goals and added another on a delayed call.
Minnesota out-shot the Huskies (2-1-0, 0-1-0-0 WCHA) by a healthy 38-5 margin. Senior goaltender Amanda Leveille had a light workload Friday. She nearly was able to be able to read a book, only making a single save in each of the last two periods, as the Gophers controlled the puck and kept the Huskies pinned in their zone.
"I thought we looked better each and every period - and in particular the second were really able to wear them down for a few extended shifts - which enabled us in the third period to really put the hammer down," said Minnesota head coach Brad Frost, whose team has yet to give up a goal in three games.
Before the start of Friday's game, Minnesota's four seniors from 2014-15, Rachael Bona, Meghan Lorence, Rachel Ramsey and Shyler Sletta, helped raise the 2015 national championship banner into the Ridder Arena rafters with a short and sentimental ceremony.
"It's great to re-live that memory one more time at the beginning of the season and see that banner raised. It's obviously our goal to do that every year and seeing that put up is awesome," Cameranesi said. "But it also signifies the end of last season and the beginning of this season."
On a five-game scoring streak dating back to last season's Frozen Four, Pannek made her first goal happen by herself. Getting the puck out from a scrum along the boards near the blue line, Pannek skated towards Huskies goalie Katie Fitzgerald. She made the first save, but Pannek buried her own rebound.
St. Cloud State was able to keep it close for close to 40 minutes, only allowing Pannek and Cameranesi to score despite being heavily out-shot.
That changed late in the second period. Milica McMillen, who had a goal and two assists, fed defensive partner Lee Stecklein with a no-look behind the back pass at the blue line before Stecklein beat a screened Fitzgerald for her first of the year with 49.2 seconds remaining to open the floodgates.
Minutes after being denied on a breakaway opportunity, Piazza showed why she earned her way into the top-six this season with a goal on a delayed penalty. Cameranesi showed growing chemistry with Sarah Potomak on the ensuing power play, and McMillen added one for a 6-0 lead with 10:57 remaining in regulation.
Pannek finished the scoring on the power play, showing a goal scorer's touch where everything went right when her pass trying to find Stecklein went off Fitzgerald and into the back of the net.
"It's kind of a pride thing. The other unit scored two on theirs, so we felt that as a unit we wanted a goal," she said.
So far this year she is getting everything she wants.
"I've told you guys a lot last year that (Pannek) reminds me of Hannah Brandt and to see Kelly take that next step this year and start off quick is a huge benefit. She just makes everyone look better," said Frost.
Minnesota and St. Cloud State play again tomorrow (October 10) in Minneapolis. Puck drop is at 4:07 p.m CT.
MIN- Kelly Pannek (3) (9:06) (unassisted)
MIN- Dani Cameranesi (1) (9:25) (Megan Wolfe, Kate Schipper PP)
MIN- Lee Stecklein (1) (19:10) (Milica McMillen, Schipper)
MIN- Cara Piazza (1) (5:00) (Schipper,
Sophie Skarzynski Pannek)
MIN- Cameranesi (2) (6:32) (Sarah Potomak, Wolfe PP)
MIN- Milica McMillen (2) (9:03) (Schipper)
MIN- Pannek (4) (14:09) (Hannah Brandt, McMillen PP)
SCSU - 3 - 1 - 1- -- 5:
MIN - 5 - 16 - 17 -- 38
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate