MINNEAPOLIS — Goalie Brittony Chartier and defenseman Melanie Gagnon came to Minnesota in what they called a “package deal.” The two played together on both the Canadian U-22 team as well as the Oval Extreme. That background added the weight of great expectations to their burden, and there were occasions when both rookies struggled.
Friday’s NCAA quarterfinal vs. Princeton in Ridder Arena was not one of those occasions. Both performed like seasoned veterans in helping the Gophers (28-10-1) to their fifth straight Frozen Four with a 4-0 win over the Tigers (21-8-4). They will meet No. 1 New Hampshire in one semifinal at the Frozen Four in Minneapolis.
“It’s exciting to beat a good team like Princeton,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “We’re excited to make the field, especially having it here on campus.”
During the second period against the Tigers, Mariucci Arena, which is adjacent to Ridder, seemed a lot farther away figuratively than it is geographically.
“The shots were 15-6 — I thought Princeton was all over us,” said Halldorson.
At times, Minnesota struggled to even posses the puck outside of their own end. But in the final two minutes of the period, the Gophers made a rare foray into the attacking zone, and Gagnon capitalized on a break.
“There was a collision on a Minnesota player against [Laura] Watt, which caused her to turn the puck over, so our D-zone got a little scrambly, and the puck sort of squirted out to Gagnon, and she made a good shot,” said Princeton coach Jeff Kampersal.
“I was shocked,” said Gagnon. “I didn’t know why I had so much time. I put everything I had behind it, and I heard it hit the back of the net and probably jumped about eight feet.”
“When that puck was coming out, all the forwards were deep,” said Halldorson. “I was a little nervous if Princeton got that, we’d be in trouble coming back the other way. It was good to see No. 3 wind up.”
The goal breathed new life into Minnesota.
“We were in that position last week, outplaying Brown, going into the third period down 1-0,” said Kampersal. “Minnesota took it to us in the first, but I thought we really picked it up in the second.”
The first 10 seconds of the third period furnished the Gophers with another burst of adrenaline. While shorthanded, Whitney Graft buried the rebound of a Bobbi Ross shot to increase the lead to 2-0.
“At first, I was hesitant to go with her, because on the penalty kill you want to stay back,” said Graft. “I saw Bobbi was going to be able to put the puck on net. So I cut to the middle, trying to bring that other [defender] back so she could have a better shot, and the rebound was right there for me.”
“I don’t know if we had brain cramps on that play or what, but it was a key goal,” said Kampersal.
Princeton quickly went from having the chance to get even on the power play to facing a bigger deficit.
“There was a shift in momentum, especially after that second goal,” said Tiger defenseman Chrissie Norwich, playing her final collegiate game, which was ironically her first in her home state.
That the Gophers were even in the game after two periods, let alone leading, was due largely to the work of Chartier and the penalty kill. In another twist, she may not even have played had Kim Hanlon not been injured in the WCHA championship on Sunday.
“It was big shoes to fill — Kim’s played really well,” said Chartier. “I was looking forward to the opportunity.”
She made the most of it, stopping all 33 shots she faced, to record the first shutout in NCAA tournament play.
“It’s kind of neat, but it’s a team accomplishment,” she said, deflecting the recognition as easily as she had the shots.
Princeton seized the momentum near the end of the first period when they had almost three minutes of power play, including more than a minute of five-on-three.
“We were just trying to get pucks to the net, and get some people off the post and see if they can get anything in there,” said Tiger top scorer Kim Pearce.
“They did the job that they had to do,” said Kampersal. “I think we got like ten shots off. The goalie leaves big rebounds, so we probably should have stayed out a little higher, because the rebounds were going beyond us.”
Minnesota put the game away at 8:31 of the third period with a power play goal from a crashing Ashley Albrecht during a brief five-on-three.
Wacker provided the 4-0 final when she calmly scored a lay up off the rebound of a Palkie shot.
Minnesota had nine players dent the scoring column, led by Graft with a goal and an assist. None of the points were bigger than Gagnon’s second goal of the season.
Gagnon said that while the transition to college hockey has been challenging, she feels good about where her game is right now.
“It’s fun — I think I got it, and hopefully it gets better from here,” she said.