Gophers on brink of repeating as champs

MINNEAPOLIS — Through 48 games, the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team has always found a way. The top-ranked Gophers possess a belief that somehow, some way they will find a way to win.

Now 48 games into their NCAA-record streak, who’s to disagree?

Whether it was last weekend, pulling out a three-overtime game against rival North Dakota — the last team to beat Minnesota more than a year ago, on Feb. 17, 2012 — or Friday’s 3-2 overtime win against Boston College in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals, the Gophers just find a way.

“When our team is pushed and challenged and we need a goal, we get one and did that tonight,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said Friday after the Gophers made their way to the NCAA championship for the second straight year. “The team found a way, as they have all year, and I’m really, really proud of them, and it’s a big night for our program here.”

After being asked if Friday was one of the easiest press conferences he’s had to handle, Frost joked that “they’re all easy after a win, I guess.”

He’s had a lot of easy ones then.

After senior Sarah Davis scored just 1:39 into overtime, Minnesota advanced to Sunday’s  championship game against Boston University as it seeks back-to-back titles. With a 40-0 mark, the Gophers have already set a record for most wins in a single season in NCAA women’s hockey history and are trying to finish the first undefeated season in history.

There was no panic Friday night despite going into the third period trailing for the first time all season.

“They came in and said, ‘You guys better not be doubting us. If you don’t believe in it, it’s not going to get done,’ ” said senior Becky Kortum of the second-intermission speech from coaches. “And honestly, personally, I had no doubt. I had no nervousness. I wasn’t scared that we were going to lose. I knew that we would pull through, and I think that speaks to the character of our team. I would lay it on the line for any of these girls, and I know they would do the same for me.”

The records and accolades keep piling up for Minnesota, which somehow keeps its perspective.

“For me personally, it wasn’t the pressure of that Minnesota was the favorite, but it was the pressure that if we don’t win, our season is over,” Davis said.

To put into perspective how dominant the Gophers have been this season, they’ve trailed for a total of only 66:56 all season. On Friday, they trailed Boston College for just 3:29. Hannah Brandt scored her 32nd goal on a power play just 1:42 into the third period.

For the first time in the award’s 16-year history, three Gophers are the top-3 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, women’s hockey’s version of the Hobey Baker award: senior goaltender Nora Raaty, who made 26 saves Friday, senior defenseman Megan Bozek and junior forward Amanda Kessel.

But in overtime, it wasn’t Kessel, Brandt and freshman Maryanne Menefee, who have combined for 92 goals this season, jumping the boards for the fateful final shift. It was Davis, the Canadian transplant and the third line of Bethany Brausen and Meghan Lorence. Davis scored her just her seventh goal of the season, sliding across the front of the net, holding the puck and drawing the Boston College goaltender out before sneaking the puck in on a tough angle for the game-winner.

“Obviously wanted to get it right away, we didn’t want to play anymore three-period overtimes,” Davis said, referencing the survival of last week’s three-OT game in the NCAA quarterfinals. “Just kind of head faked and shot it in and I am so, so happy it went in — beyond words how happy I am that it went in.”

For Frost and the Gophers, it was just another example of “finding a way” and doing so with the third line, demonstrating the depth and trust Minnesota and its coach have developed.

“From Day 1 we’ve been talking about how the depth of our team is probably the biggest strength,” Frost said. “I don’t know how many coaches would send their third line over the boards in overtime, at least early on. We’ve got all the confidence in the world in all of our lines and all of our kids. I knew sending them over there was a chance they would score just like any other line.”

Davis’ goal sent off a big celebration, which included the Canadian jumping into the side boards.

“That could use some work,” Davis joked of her celebration. “I board jumped, and I always tell myself never board jump, but emotion took over, obviously. Everyone was so pumped. I’m smiling like a fool right now, but hey, it’s a great day.”

There’s been a lot of them for the Gophers lately. They’re hoping for one more.

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