Gophers nab women’s title with 49th straight W

MINNEAPOLIS — This was the goal all along.

The NCAA record-long winning streak, the undefeated regular season, the WCHA title, those were all nice. But the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team had a bigger goal in mind from the day the season started. Sunday, that goal became a reality.

The most dominant team in women’s college hockey put together yet another dominating performance, beating Boston University 6-3 for the 2013 national championship. It capped a perfect 41-0 season for the Gophers, who have now won two straight NCAA titles.

“I don’t know when it will sink in,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “We didn’t lose a game all year. I can’t even explain that. It just doesn’t make sense.”

The Gophers have now won 49 straight games dating back to last year, which ended with Frost’s first national championship as head coach. There were close calls along the way this season – Minnesota needed triple overtime to get past North Dakota in the NCAA quarterfinals and overtime in the semifinals against Boston College – but the Gophers never buckled under the pressure.

The weight of the season-long winning streak was lifted Sunday. The Gophers could finally exhale and celebrate, which is exactly what they did as the Ridder Arena clock hit 0:00. With the win in hand, gloves and sticks flew into the air as Minnesota was once again a national champion.

“I said it before that I thought it was impossible, but as you can see, it wasn’t impossible. We made the impossible possible,” said junior forward Amanda Kessel. “It’s amazing. I can’t stop smiling.”

And who could blame Kessel for the ear-to-ear grin she wore along with her backwards national champions hat during her postgame press conference? One day after being named the Patty Kazmaier winner as the nation’s top player, Kessel was instrumental in Minnesota’s championship. The Madison, Wis., native scored two goals and added two assists to finish her junior year with 101 points (46 goals, 55 assists). Her empty netter with under a minute remaining sealed the victory for the Gophers. She also scored late in the second period on a slap shot that beat Boston goalie Kerrin Sperry for a 3-1 Gophers lead.

There was plenty of talk after the game about where Minnesota’s season ranks among the all-time great performances by a women’s hockey team. But what about the individual season Kessel put together? On top of being named college hockey’s best player this year, Kessel – whose brother, Phil, plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs – also became just the fourth women’s player to record a 100-point season.

“Historic. I remember saying a couple months ago when someone said, ‘OK, what type of season is she having,'” Frost said. “Tonight, you saw why she was the Patty Kazmaier winner, because she was an absolute stud and she’s been playing like that all year for us. It was a great run for her.”

Kessel had help on Sunday, as she did all season. The Gophers have exhibited a great amount of depth and balance, and that was evident in their championship win. Defenseman Mira Jalosuo started the scoring with her 11th goal of the season, and Hannah Brandt followed not long after with her 33rd goal to make it 2-0. In all, five Gophers scored in Sunday’s win, and five different players – Brandt, Kessel, goalie Noora Raty, defensemen Megan Bozek and Milica McMillen – earned All-Tournament honors.

Frost scoffed at any mention of his program as a dynasty, yet after winning back-to-back national titles, it’s hard to argue against that notion. Minnesota finished with the most wins in a single season in Division I women’s hockey history. Other schools have put together great runs through the years, but nothing quite of this magnitude.

Of course, the question had to be asked after the Gophers’ second straight title: was this the best women’s hockey team ever? Kessel, Raty and captain Megan Bozek all looked at each other before a brave soul stepped forward to take the bait.

“Doesn’t that already say that we are the best, or arguably the best, women’s team in history?” said Raty after it was mentioned that no other team had gone 41-0. “No other team has done this, so we’re a better team than anyone else has been throughout the years.”

Boston University finished its season with a 28-6-3 mark and lost in the NCAA championship for the second time in three years. The Terriers lost 4-1 to Wisconsin in the title game in 2011. Two years later, BU ran into arguably the best women’s hockey team to take the ice.

“There will obviously be great debate that this is the best women’s college hockey team ever, and they earned what they got,” said Boston coach Brian Durocher. “We’ve got to tip our cap to their record, because it’s not easy to go with a zero in two columns.”

Frost and his players will take some time to savor this win while attempting to understand the magnitude of what just happened. It’s a lot to digest: a perfect 41-0 record, three players named as the three Patty Kazmaier finalists, and, of course, a second straight national championship.

“Obviously we’ve got a real good thing going, and it starts by recruiting great people who happen to be great hockey players,” Frost said. “Last year when we won, I got a text message from my former college coach, Peter Aus, just saying, ‘Make sure you enjoy this as long as you can because in about a day or two, somebody will say, ‘Well, are you going to repeat?” So I’m going to take that to heart here as well as enjoy it.

“We’ll worry about next year next year. But this team is a group that will be imprinted forever in history.”

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