DURHAM, N.H. — Behind sophomore Tricia Guest’s game winner, Minnesota-Duluth captured its second consecutive NCAA Division I women’s championship, taking a 3-2 win over Brown Sunday afternoon at the Whittemore Center.
Brown came inches away from gracefully capping a storybook, turnaround season in the championship game, but the Bears couldn’t deliver the happiest of endings.
With the score tied 2-2 in the third period of a wide-open, end-to-end hockey game, Brown was earning the bulk of the scoring opportunities. But only Guest managed to bury one, and that was the difference as the Bulldogs (24-6-4) captured their second consecutive national title in their three-year varsity history.
Meanwhile, Brown (25-8-2) was left with its third second-place finish in the five-year history of women’s national championships.
“I think it’s apparent to everyone in the building that either team could have won that game and walked away with the national championship,” said UMD coach Shannon Miller.
UMD pulled out the victory despite failing to contain Bear senior forward Kristy Zamora, who earned tournament most outstanding player honors. But it was Guest who earned the right to the hoist the game-winning puck. Guest’s opportunistic game-winner came with five minutes left.
As Brown tried to clear the puck out of its zone, it deflected back off a skate towards Guest, who had time and space in the high slot. A Brown defense that had been tight and aggressive all evening uncharacteristically gave Guest time to pick her shot. Using a Brown defenseman as a screen, she fired hard and low through Bear junior goaltender Pam Dreyer’s five-hole for the 3-2 lead.
UMD tightened up and silenced the Brown attack thereafter, as the Bears tallied just one shot on goal in the final minutes after Dreyer was pulled.
Brown’s last bid came in the final seconds as junior co-captain Kim Insalaco outraced the UMD defense into the offensive zone and dished off to junior defenseman Cassie Turner at the point.
Turner set up Zamora for a deflection in front, but the shot was too soft and straight to fool UMD goaltender Patricia Sautter. The puck rolled into the corner, the clock ran out, and the UMD bench emptied in celebration.
Brown was outscored 1-0 in the final period despite outshooting UMD 16-7 and garnering high-quality chances. In the period’s opening minutes, Zamora set up freshman Jessica Link in front for a shot that deflected off the opposite-side post.
Zamora also drew the only penalty of the third, which gave the Bears several chances on the power play, and later on freshman Katie Guay had a breakaway opportunity. But no one other than the senior Zamora could finish.
“In the third period we were on fire,” said Brown coach Digit Murphy. “We had the opportunity to win. You can’t let a dangerous team like Duluth hang around. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re Olympians, and they’re seasoned, so they’ve been there.”
Zamora buried clear shots from a few yards out in each of the first two periods; the first putting the Bears up 1-0, the second tying the game 2-2.
“I just wish we could have gone out with a championship ring for her senior year,” Murphy said. “But we’ll have a lot of great memories.”
Both teams played with wide-open offenses which led to hits all over the ice and end-to-end scoring opportunities. The referees, for the most part, let the players play. Murphy called the game a great product for television and the 3,102 fans in attendance.
“That was one of the best games I’ve ever played in,” Zamora said. “It was physical. It was fast. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
The Bears started the year 6-6-1 before going 19-1-1 en route to making the national championship game. Its hopes of getting that one last win were looking up when Zamora scored the game’s first goal at the 11:26 mark of the first period.
Miller came into the game preaching to UMD that it needed to relax and have fun, and the results showed as UMD was able to bounce back from the initial deficit within the next two minutes.
The game-tying goal from Kristina Petrovskaia, set up by Guest, bounced once off the post, once off Dreyer’s back, and once off Dreyer’s stick as she made a last-ditch effort to stop the puck. When UMD tied the game, the players piled on the side boards in an unusually exuberant mid-game celebration.
The score erased an opening 13 minutes where the Bulldogs weren’t able to bury their scoring chances, many of them coming from Erika Holst. Holst finally did cash in 11 minutes into the second period when she took a pass from Bulldog junior Laurie Alexander off the side boards and deceptively lobbed it just inside the right post past Dreyer to give UMD a 2-1 lead.
Dreyer made 28 saves, but Sautter did her better with 33. Miller said it was tough personally for her to bench junior Tuula Puputti, who Miller said has played her last game for UMD, but she did what was the best for the team.
The Bulldogs had struggled to be unified throughout this season. They were the clear-cut No. 1 team in the season’s first half with a 15-0-3 record, but they went just 9-6-1 in their last 16 games prior to the tournament as they struggled to deal with the absence of players due to the Olympics.
But those absences were a blessing is disguise, as they had the added affect of allowing the team to build depth in players like Guest. Those small changes were the difference between a UMD national championship and a second-place finish in a year of women’s college hockey where parity reigned.