Minnesota takes NCAA women's hockey title
The Minnesota Gophers have watched their biggest rivals hoist the national championship trophy the last four seasons. Sarah Erickson and Noora Raty weren't about to let it happen again.
Erickson scored two goals, Raty stopped 42 shots and Minnesota beat Wisconsin 4-2 in the NCAA women's hockey final on Sunday.
Amanda Kessel, the sister of Toronto Maple Leafs All-Star Phil Kessel, and Emily West also scored for Minnesota, which won its third national title and first since the 2004-05 season.
"From the start, I've wanted to win a national title," Erickson said. "To end my senior season on this note, it's kind of a Cinderella story. We've come up short every other year."
After falling behind 2-0 midway through the first period, Wisconsin (33-5-2) rallied behind goals from Stefanie McKeough and Brooke Ammerman.
The Badgers had an opportunity to grab the lead at the end of the first, but failed to score on a 5-on-3 power play.
The Gophers (34-5-2) regained the momentum at the end of the first when West scored on a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway. It was the first penalty-shot goal in the 12-year history of the women's title game.
West beat Alex Rigsby, and then celebrated by leaping into her teammates' arms on the Gophers' bench.
"Normally, you have teammates skating after you when you score," West said. "This time, I had to go to them."
West's goal and Lambeau Leap-style celebration capped a frenzied first period filled with five goals, 19 shots on goal and up-and-down action that generated numerous scoring chances for both teams.
Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said everyone had a chance to "breathe" after the first period. The Badgers could have breathed easier if they scored on the 5-on-3 and took the lead.
"If you score there, you take the wind out of their sails," Johnson said. "But that's hockey. You're looking for opportunities and we had them. We just didn't capitalize."
Erickson's second goal came with 16:03 to play in the third and gave Minnesota 4-2 lead.
Wisconsin was looking for its fifth title in seven seasons, but couldn't crack Raty after the first. The Badgers and Minnesota-Duluth - the Gophers' in-state rivals - have won the last four national championships.
The closest the Badgers came to scoring again came at the end of the second period when Carolyn Prevost had several attempts to shove the puck over the line from in close. But Raty made two glove saves and a blocker save to preserve the lead.
Raty, a junior from Finland, turned away 20 shots in the final period and was named the tournament's most outstanding player. She also held strong after the Badgers pulled their goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage in the game's final minutes.
"She was dang good in the third period there," Gophers coach Brad Frost said. "She's been on a run in the last month that's been as good as any goalie has ever been on."
Wisconsin was the top-ranked team in the country for all but one week this season. The Gophers held the top slot briefly in early January, and ended up No. 1 in the end.
"This was one of the best games I've ever been a part of," Ammerman said. "The game's speed was a whole other level for women's hockey. It was a real tough one to lose."
After the game, Frost talked about how defense carried his team all season. That was the case again Sunday.
The Gophers held Wisconsin's Brianna Decker, the Patty Kazmaier Award winner and the nation's leading scorer, without a point.
"We've been the best defensive team in the country all year and that showed in the second and third period," Frost said. "We're just so happy to bring the trophy back. It feels like a long time."