The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers’ dynasty reigns, as they claimed their second straight NCAA championship and fourth in five years overall this weekend at the Whittemore Center.
“I’m just very proud of our team,” senior right wing Amanda Kessel said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to win. I think everybody battled hard out there. These are games that you don’t get back; we laid it all on the line, and I really couldn’t be happier with our team’s effort.”
The 35-4-1 Gophers knocked off the University of Wisconsin 3-2 in overtime in the semifinals, before handing the Boston College Eagles a 3-1 loss in the championship game. BC’s dominant season ended in heartbreaking fashion, as the loss ended its bid at a perfect season, finishing with a 40-1-0 record.
Despite the Eagles heading into the national title game with an undefeated record, Gophers head coach Brad Frost did not allow that to be a distraction from the task at hand.
“We didn’t talk once about ending their perfect season,” he said. “It was all about, ‘we’re playing in the national championship game,’ and doing our best to go out there and try to win it. BC had an incredible year. Any time you can get to the Frozen Four is a great job, let alone go 40 wins in a row, so they’re a tremendous team, well coached, and we have a ton of respect for them.”
BC vs. Clarkson
In the tournament’s first semifinal game, the Clarkson University Golden Knights jumped out to a quick start on BC, breaking the scoreless tie 2 minutes, 27 seconds into the game. The remainder of the period was an evenly matched affair, but Clarkson held on to its lead, marking the first time all season that BC trailed after the first period.
Already in unfamiliar territory, the Eagles fell behind 2-0 when the Golden Knights’ leading scorer Cayley Mercer tallied her 25th goal of the season 5:29 into the second period. BC had an uphill battle to climb, but was able to cut the deficit in half with a goal from senior right wing Haley Skarupa late in the middle frame.
Clarkson did everything it could to extend its lead in the third period, outshooting BC 16-6, but the high-powered Eagles found a way to battle back and tie the game. A low shot from senior defenseman Kaliya Johnson found its way through traffic and into the net with just under four minutes to go, sending the game to overtime, tied 2-2.
Just 58 seconds into overtime, Hockey East’s leading scorer Alex Carpenter dished a centering pass to Skarupa for a one-timer, which she buried to complete the comeback win.
“I am so proud of our players,” BC head coach Katie Crowley said following the game. “That Clarkson team is an unbelievable team; they played us really tough. I don’t think we’ve been down by two goals too many times this season, so I was extremely happy with the way our team reacted, and the way we stayed positive.”
Minnesota vs. Wisconsin
The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and University of Wisconsin Badgers added a new chapter to their storied rivalry in a tight, hard-fought affair Friday night.
In what appeared to be a theme in this tournament, Minnesota struck early, scoring just 2:15 into the game on freshman right wing Taylor Williamson’s fifth goal of the season.
The Badgers were unfazed by their sudden deficit, and were able to tie the game 1-1 midway through the first period. Freshman forward Sophia Shaver jumped on a mishandled puck by the Minnesota defense and fired a shot past senior goaltender Amanda Leveille for her seventh goal of the year.
In the final 20 seconds of the second period, with the score still deadlocked 1-1, Wisconsin’s second-highest scorer, Emily Clark, found the back of the net to give the Badgers the lead heading into the final period.
Their momentum was short lived, however, as senior right wing Amanda Kessel lasered a shot past Badgers’ goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens to pull the game even once again, a tie that could not be broken within regulation time.
Fans at the Whitt were provided with more free hockey, with the Badgers and Gophers competing in a thrilling overtime, complete with three power play opportunities, two of which were in favor of Minnesota.
With five minutes left in the extra period, freshman left wing Sarah Potomak’s fore checking pressure forced a turnover in front of the Wisconsin net, and her shot broke through Desbiens to send the Gophers to the title game.
BC vs. Minnesota
The Gophers did not waste any time generating offense in the national title game, and opened the scoring just 13 seconds after the opening faceoff. Minnesota freshman Sarah Potomak was left all alone in front of the net, and she one-timed a pass from center Hannah Brandt past BC goaltender Katie Burt for the 1-0 lead, the fastest goal in an NCAA Championship game. Potomak was named both the NCAA Rookie of the Year and the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player.
Minnesota brought its skating game early on, and put BC on its heels in the opening 10 minutes, generating 10 shots to BC’s one. Burt stood tall to keep the deficit at one, and the Eagles came back strong with pressure of their own, doing everything but score in the second half of the period. The shot totals at the end of the opening frame were 12-12.
Play opened up in the second period, as the two teams continuously traded scoring chances in what quickly became a goaltending duel between Burt and Minnesota’s Amanda Leveille. Through 40 minutes of play, they each made 26 saves, turning away numerous high-quality scoring chances with apparent ease.
Leveille was very humble after the game, and credited her team’s play for her success.
“I truly believe that all goaltender stats are a reflection of the team,” she said. “I think they all played tremendous in front of me tonight, and I am very grateful that I have the defense and the forwards that I have.”
Still trailing 1-0 in the third period, the Eagles’ missed opportunities came back to haunt them. BC failed to convert on a power play 4:28 into the final period, mainly due to Leveille’s play, which included an impressive glove save on offensive defenseman Megan Keller.
Just over two minutes after the penalty expired, Kessel scored on a slapshot from the high slot to extend Minnesota’s lead to 2-0. Following the goal, the same events recurred. The Gophers were called for another penalty, but the Eagles could not find the back of the net, and shortly after, Minnesota center Kelly Pannek notched the team’s third goal, putting the game of out reach.
The Eagles were finally able to solve Leveille with just under six minutes remaining, cutting the deficit to two, but it was too little too late, and the Gophers held on for the win.