Kessel returns to Minnesota lineup, has two assists as No. 3 Gophers blank No. 8 North Dakota


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MINNEAPOLIS — Senior Amanda Kessel returned to Ridder Arena 1,048 days after she helped Minnesota to the 2013 NCAA championship and contributed a pair of assists for the No. 3 Gophers in their 3-0 victory over No. 8 North Dakota.

However, she brought even more to the 2,635 fans in attendance just by skating onto the ice after dealing with a concussion since the 2014 Olympics.

“I woke up this morning, and I was pumped to play,” Kessel said. “It’s been a long road, but it felt great to be back out there on the ice and representing the University of Minnesota.”

Kessel got her first point of the season on her team’s only power play, when Dani Cameranesi picked up a Kessel rebound behind the goal and fed Hannah Brandt in front.

In the third period, Kessel found Sophie Skarzynski at the right point, and the freshman’s blast hit the net for her second goal of the season to make it a three-goal lead for the Gophers (25-3-0, 20-3-0-0 WCHA).

On the night, North Dakota (14-9-4, 11-8-4-2 WCHA) couldn’t find any similar magic.

“I thought we played well,” UND coach Brian Idalski said. “We executed some things we wanted to do.”

The problem was the Fighting Hawks didn’t get any reward for their efforts.

“[Amanda Leveille], in particular in the second period, she shut the door,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said.

Leveille stopped all 29 shots the Fighting Hawks put on net for her sixth shutout of the season and the 28th of her career.

“It’s been a little bit of a grind for us to finish, and I thought that was the story again today,” Idalski said.

When they did the get puck by Leveille, something interceded.

“We’re not capitalizing on our opportunities,” UND senior captain Layla Marvin said. “A couple posts tonight, some big scrums out front, and we’re not burying when we get our chance.”

Marvin clanged a first-period shot loudly off the right post. In the second period, the puck got through Leveille, but a Minnesota defenseman cleared it to a corner.

“Teams like Minnesota, like they did tonight — we give them one power play and it ends up in the back of our net,” Marvin said.

For the third straight game, the Gophers had one power-play opportunity, and converted it into a goal, raising their season power-play percentage to 49.3.

They added insurance when Sydney Baldwin took a return pass from blue line partner Milica McMillen and threaded a shot through to make it 2-0 with 1:25 elapsed in the second period.

Shelby Amsley-Benzie matched Leveille with 29 saves.