MINNEAPOLIS — Once Bobbi Ross got started, there wasn’t any way to stop her. After being fairly quiet in the goal-scoring department over much of the second half of the season, Ross exploded for four goals to propel Minnesota to a 5-4 win over No. 1 New Hampshire.
The Gophers (29-10-1) advanced to their third straight NCAA championship game, where they will face conference rival and WCHA champion Wisconsin.
“I can’t stop smiling,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “It was very emotional, and I think the bottom line is we found a way to win.”
Such are the emotions when you return to the ultimate game with a team few expected to reach such lofty heights.
The Wildcats (33-3-1) lost for the first time in 30 contests. Painfully, this loss came at a point in the season where there are no second chances.
“It was an interesting game,” said New Hampshire coach Brian McCloskey. “It was a game of ebb and flow.”
Nothing was flowing more smoothly than Ross’ scoring touch.
“Bobbi obviously had a tremendous game,” said Halldorson.
Ross converted on half of her eight shots on goal, including the game-winner at 18:09 of the third period. She saw Whitney Graft coming down the ice on a two-on-two, she knew she had to isolate one of the defenseman. She received the puck, and thought to shoot to the far side.
UNH goalie Melissa Bourdon got a piece of the puck, but not enough.
The sophomore wing had already completed her hat trick on a game-tying penalty shot in the second period. She claimed her legs were shaking before the attempt, but outwardly, she appeared as calm and steady as she had all night.
Ross chose to go with a move that had been clicking in practice — showing the puck, then pulling it to the backhand and slipping it home. The same move produced Minnesota’s second goal and a 2-0 lead at 9:28 of the first period, when Andrea Nichols found her cruising down the slot unguarded.
Before that, Ross provided the defending champs with the start they needed by netting the opening goal of the contest on the team’s first shot just 46 seconds into the game. She took a pass from Erika McKenzie and roofed a backhand to beat Melissa Bourdon.
The Wildcats recovered from the early deficit to score three goals unanswered. They gained that momentum with their deadly power play, which converted almost 31 percent of the time on the season and finished 2-of-5 on the night.
Jennifer Hitchcock deflected Martine Garland’s point shot over Brittony Chartier at 15:17 of the first period to make it a 2-1 game.
Just over two minutes later, Kacey Bellamy’s shot from the point slipped inside the near post while Hitchcock was harassing Chartier at the edge of the crease.
Nicole Goguen’s long shot through traffic found its way past everyone and into the net to put UNH up 3-2, their only lead of the game, at 6:15 of the second period.
At that point, McCloskey thought UNH was starting to take control of the game. But two penalties and the penalty shot erased that lead.
Becky Wacker put Minnesota back on top at 4-3 when she backhanded the rebound of a Nichols shot inside the pipe.
“I don’t think we got down on ourselves,” said Hitchcock. “Our team stayed up the whole game, we were standing up on the bench encouraging the rest of the team.”
The New Hampshire sophomore had a big game of her own, finishing with a goal and two assists.
Nicole Hekle tied the game 4-4 on the power play at 12:11 when she redirected a pass from the point behind Chartier. Minnesota took three consecutive penalties after taking the lead, and the third time was the charm for the Wildcats.
As the game clock wound down in regulation, Minnesota’s experience of having been in such situations in the past, including last season’s championship game, paid dividends. Minnesota won that game in the final minutes as well.
“It’s always nice to have experience in battles like that,” said Wacker. “A lot of veterans were going around the bench making sure everybody was calm. Even when we scored, we had to stay focused because we knew it would be a battle to the end.”
“Bobbi Ross is a sophomore and she had four goals today — good for her,” said McCloskey. “She won it all last year. You have to give credit where credit is due.”
Ross could easily have had another goal, but she clanked a shot labeled for the twine off of the crossbar in the second period, a sound she said she’d have remembered all year long had her team lost.
“The box score doesn’t tell the story of the game,” she said of the contributions that weren’t as apparent as her own.
Perhaps. In this case, it told a lot of it, and the heroine was named Ross.