DULUTH, Minn. — New Hampshire freshman Jenn Wakefield’s frustration as she clutched her helmet late in the third period told the story of the night. Another missed opportunity, and another save by Minnesota Duluth goalie Kim Martin.
“It was a shot I should have been made,” Wakefield said. “I was just disappointed with myself. I didn’t do my job.”
Everyone who watched Sweden upset the United States in the 2006 Olympics knew Martin was a goalie who could steal the game. Her freshman year she battled injuries and lost her only start in the NCAA final. But this night at the Women’s Frozen Four, she was on.
Martin’s numbers were absurd. Despite a final shot total of 43-15, UMD (33-4-1) triumphed 3-2 over the Wildcats (33-4-1) to delight a home crowd of 3,161. Those numbers included a second period in which UMD was outshot 13-0 yet were outscored only 1-0. They also included five UNH power plays in the third period, including a 5-on-3 in the final minutes, as UNH struggled to erase a 3-2 deficit. A power-play goal by UMD freshman Laura Fridfinnson, her second of the night, at 10:27 of the third period proved to be the difference.
“I’d say Kim Martin for the Patty Kaz,” said UMD coach Shannon Miller. “Obviously we got outplayed by a very talented team. She kept us in from the first 30 seconds of the game.” Unfortunately, the Kazmaier Committee voted back in late February and did not have the chance to see this one.
UNH coach Brian McCloskey said the better team did not win.
“It’d be hard for me to say anything except for how proud I was of my team tonight,” he said. “There’s been a lot of talk of WCHA domination, and clearly the team wearing blue tonight dominated every facet of the game. But that’s what makes hockey an interesting game For 60 minutes our kids pressed it to the metal, but we were clearly the better team.”
The result set up an All-WCHA final for the third straight year and a Wisconsin-UMD final for the second straight year. It guaranteed an eighth straight NCAA title for the WCHA. It was another heartbreaking loss for UNH at the Frozen Four. This was the second time in three years that UNH fell to a Frozen Four host WCHA school by a single goal. Hockey East teams have yet to advance to NCAA final.
“A lot of people want to knock our league, but I’m very proud of our league,” McCloskey said. “I think Duluth would be hard-pressed to finish first in our league. UNH is an outstanding program, and we expected be here, and we expected to be playing Saturday, but in the world of sports there are always bounces, and they were an opportunistic team.”
UMD won despite playing without two of its top scorers Saara Tuominen and Iya Gavrilova. Tuominen was out with a strained MCL, and Gavrilova has been sitting due to NCAA eligibility questions. Miller came in with a game plan of having two lines put the puck deep, and the top line trying to score. Ultimately, the power play is what made the difference.
UNH jumped to a quick 1-0 lead on a goal by Jenn Wakefield at the four-minute mark of the first period. UMD set its sights on getting that goal back.
“We blundered in front, Kim had no chance,” said Haley Irwin, UMD’s top scorer. “We deserved to score another goal for her.”
Five minutes later, UMD junior Sara O’Toole struck with just her eighth goal of the season to tie the game at one.
“O’Toole goes unnoticed a lot,” Miller said. “Today she had to step up, and think about herself as a goal scorer. She created that goal just by being aggressive and taking the puck to the net.”
Fridfinnson scored her first power play goal at 12:48 of the first period to give UMD a 2-1 lead at the first intermission, despite a 15-9 UNH shot advantage.
UNH tied the game 2-2 when UNH senior Leah Craig converted from Martine Garland on the power play at 13:19 of the second period.
UMD went nearly half the game without a shot on goal between late in the first period and midway through the third period.
“We talked about how we have to come up ice together with closer support,” Miller said of her advice after UMD was outshot 13-0. “We were making long cross-ice passes We talked about chipping in behind their D to create footraces.”
UNH had the momentum, but UMD and Martin held strong, and when UMD had another opportunity on the power play in the third, Fridfinnson struck again on a deflection.
“I just go to the net with my stick on the ice, and it’s been working lately,” she said.
From then on, it was the Martin show. UMD took penalty after penalty, but the nation’s best power play wearing blue could not convert.
“We never lost faith, we kept thinking, we got this, we got this,” Craig said. ” I think we hit five or six posts Our team is amazing group of women, and it was a tough game.”
The key point of the game was the five-on-three that came with just over five minutes left in regulation. Martin helped kill the penalty by handling the puck cleanly, and giving her team a chance to catch its breath with each whistle she earned. When the power plays expired, she was mobbed her teammates, and the home crowd was on its feet.
“I felt we kept our composure, we kept believing, even though we got outplayed and outshot,” Miller said. “We feel very lucky, and very proud to head into the final game.”