BOSTON — Mercyhurst scored five straight goals in the first and second periods and weathered a frantic Minnesota comeback attempt to win 5-4 and advance to the NCAA Championship game. The appearance in the title game will be the first for the 10-year-old program.
“This game is like our entire season; it’s been a dramatic ride,” said Mercyhurst coach Michael Sisti. “We came here to win a championship, and we know it is not easy. We took a couple of tough penalties late and obviously Minnesota has a really great power play, but we weathered the storm.
“After two great periods where we played well, we committed six penalties in the third period. We bent but didn’t break, and this time of year it is all about finding a way to win.”
Mercyhurst standout Meghan Agosta scored two key goals and freshman goalie Hillary Pattenden made 33 saves, including 24, many top notch scoring opportunities, in the game’s final two periods.
“The key to our success today was our team play,” said Agosta. “We played well as a team. People think we were the underdog, but we really like our team, and we have no doubts at all.”
For Minnesota, captain Gigi Marvin’s two goal, two assist effort wasn’t quite enough to carry the day. Gophers’ netminder Alyssa Grogan, who has been battling food poisoning for the last few days, lasted one period, allowing three goals on just 10 shots before being lifted for backup Jenny Lura.
“In hockey, unfortunately there has to be a loser, and tonight we were on the wrong end,” said Gophers’ coach Brad Frost. “We dug ourselves a deep hole, and we never were able to dig our way out of it, but the last 40 minutes we played as well as we have all year.”
Minnesota scored the first goal of the game, just a little over five minutes in. Gopher captain Gigi Marvin lit the lamp with a top shelf goal scored on a power play.
After that, it was all Mercyhurst.
The Lakers got on the board with a five-on-three power-play goal. With Anne Schleper already off the ice for hooking, Melanie Gagnon was given a two minute penalty for body checking. This gave Mercyhurst 1:06 with the two-player advantage, and with just six seconds of that time left, they cashed in. Some tic-tac-toe passing found Valerie Chouinard at the side of the net for the easy tap in.
Mercyhurst’s second goal also came on a power play. Minnesota defender Kelly Seeler started to skate the puck clear, but Bailey Bram stole the puck from behind, turned and fired, scoring over Grogan’s foot.
Mercyhurst nearly had an identical goal about two minutes later when Hayley McMeekin stole the puck and put a shot on Grogan, but this one was stopped.
Meghan Agosta got the two-goal lead for the Lakers with just 1:14 to go in the frame, as she screamed into the Minnesota zone and got a shot past an attempted poke check by Minnesota’s Michelle Maunu.
Minnesota, facing the deficit, got more aggressive, significantly outshooting Mercyhurst for the remainder of the game. However, the Lakers scored on two of their seven shots in the period, opening up a four-goal cushion.
Meghan Corbett scored her sixth goal of the season, redirecting a shot by Valerie Chouinard between Jenny Lura’s legs.
“Every goal was huge,” said Sisti. “Even Corbett’s. I told her earlier that she had to pick it up and play better, and she went out and got a big goal for us. They are all big.”
The Gophers thought they had gotten a second goal at 15:00 of the second, but review showed the whistle had blown before the puck had crossed the line.
Agosta added her second goal of the night in the final seconds of play in the period, scoring off a rebound of a Jesse Scanzano shot.
Increased pressure finally paid off for Minnesota in the third, as Jen Schoullis scored her 17th goal of the season, this time on a power play. Schoullis took a pass from Gigi Marvin and got a shot through traffic. Until the goal, Pattenden had done a remarkable job, stopping several high quality scoring chances from Gophers’ players in the crease.
Minnesota attempted to claw back into the game with a four-on-four goal by Gigi Marvin, and despite Meghan Agosta drawing two penalties just 38 seconds apart, Minnesota pressure forced two more Mercyhurst penalties. With the goalie pulled, Minnesota had a six-on-three advantage for 1:18, and Jocelyne Lamoureux one-timed the puck into the net to draw within one.
The final minute of the game was a wild one, with a pulled goalie, Mercyhurst’s leading scorer Meghan Agosta in the penalty box along with Minnesota’s counterpart, top scorer Monique Lamoureux, and several chances to score on both ends of the ice. No scoring occurred however, and the game ended 5-4.
With the win, Mercyhurst will play Wisconsin on Sunday in the title game. The Lakers have never beaten the Badgers, despite five previous attempts, including one in the postseason.
“We worked really hard for the whole year for this,” said Agosta. “We set our goal at the beginning of the season to become champions, and now we’re one step closer to that goal. We have one game left, and the girls are really excited and proud, and we can’t wait to play on Sunday.”