The season has wound down to just one more game, albeit one of some importance. Boston University and Minnesota will collide in the Frozen Four championship game.
The Terriers have won their previous 10 games; that won’t matter. The Gophers have won even more consecutive games, but once it exceeds the number of fingers on two typical hands, it gets harder to track.
“I think there’s more pressure on the team that’s 40-0,” BU coach Brian Durocher said. “They’ve set the bar so high, and they’ve put themselves in a position where there’s a lot of pressure.”
That Minnesota number isn’t important either.
Both teams have the same record where it is crucial: each is 2-0 in this year’s NCAA tournament.
The past head-to-head history of those teams can be summarized quite briefly. The programs have played one time. Minnesota won by a 4-2 score in Ridder Arena, the site of Sunday’s game.
The contest happened back in the fall of 2007, and it didn’t involve any of the current players, as not even BU red-shirt senior Jenelle Kohanchuk’s recruiting class had yet arrived on campus. The head coaches were the same, but because it was Brad Frost’s first weekend behind the Gophers’ bench as the head coach, one might deduce that his coaching style has evolved a bit since that game.
So what do the teams know about each other?
“They have an All-American goalie, great defense, and great forwards,” Durocher said. “You don’t want your opponent to get into three- or four-goal runs, and that can happen real fast with a team like Minnesota. We have to see if we can get that first goal, but more importantly, prevent any runs.”
Scoring first has been what BU has done of late, including all five of its postseason wins. In fact, the Terriers have yet to trail on the scoreboard in the playoffs.
Playing from ahead used to be the way that Minnesota won games as well. However, it hasn’t been that simple in the NCAA tournament. The Gophers surrendered the first goal to Boston College on Friday. Against North Dakota in the quarterfinal, Minnesota scored on the first shift, but still found itself on the short end of the score right out of the first intermission.
While scoring the first goal of the game is a staple for the Gophers, it isn’t a hard requirement. The last time that Minnesota lost a game in which its opponent scored first was back in 2011. A big reason for that of late is its response to falling behind. The Gophers don’t like trailing, and when they are, their level of play picks up and typically remains raised.
Friday night’s game was scoreless until 38:13 had been played and BC scored. It then took Minnesota just 3:29 to answer.
“When our team is pushed, they push back and seem to find a way,” Frost said. “Hopefully, we can do that again.”
Minnesota is seemingly morphing from a quick-starting, front-running team to a squad that rallies from behind and comes through in the clutch.
If looked at from the perspective of the NCAA tournament, BU could even be viewed as the favorite. The Terriers won fairly comfortably over Clarkson, and were never seriously threatened on the scoreboard versus Mercyhurst. Meanwhile, Minnesota has had to scratch and claw to extend its season through both rounds, risking its season on one unkind bounce in sudden death.
When offered that favorite’s role, Durocher wasn’t buying it.
“I don’t want to pat the WCHA on the back, but we all know that North Dakota, and Wisconsin, and Duluth are fantastic teams, the teams they have to go through,” he said. “Ohio State this year had a great year. They’ve got to go through that gauntlet all the time.”
So what does Minnesota know about the Terriers?
“I think they’re similar to North Dakota,” Frost said. “They have world-class players. [Marie-Philip] Poulin is one of the best players in North America. Every time she’s on the ice, she’s a threat. That whole line with Poulin, Kohanchuk, and [Sarah] Lefort has been deadly all year. They have three big, strong defensemen, and they have three lines that can play as well, similar to BC and to us.”
Beyond it’s world-class top line, BU has other players that can dominate. Isabel Menard has 45 points centering the second line, and her wings, Louise Warren and Kayla Tutino, have combined for another 62.
“I thing we’ve stepped up the last few games, but I think the two linemates and I have played really hard; they make my job pretty easy,” Menard said. “Overall, we’ve been stepping up and scoring here and there.”
The Gophers have also had to rely on others for offense more of late, as Frost acknowledged that Amanda Kessel is not quite right.
“She’s giving it everything she’s got for us because she knows the magnitude of the game,” he said. “As far as a percentage, I can’t give that, but I think anybody who knows her and watches the game knows that she’s not 100 percent. The fact that she’s still a threat every time she’s on the ice is what’s important for us.”
On Sunday, Minnesota will have one extra threat on its side for the sold-out game.
“If there’s an advantage, it’s the crowd that will be backing the Gophers, but that can be fun for any visiting team to take on that challenge,” Durocher said.
BC took on the challenge and pushed Minnesota, but the hosts ultimately prevailed. Can the Gophers do so again and send their seniors out the door having tasted nothing but victory in their final 49 games wearing the ‘M’?
“I think it can be a distraction if we think about it, just wanting to win the game to continue the streak and not wanting to win the game because of the passion and reason that we play this game,” senior captain Megan Bozek said. “Hopefully tomorrow, we can still say that we have that streak going.”
The puck drops at 3:00 p.m. CDT.