MINNEAPOLIS — When playing in the NCAA tournament, it is win or go home. For the Gophers this season, it became a case of winning so they could stay at home. They accomplished that task … but not without some drama.
This team has had a lot over their heads from the day that it was announced that we would be hosting the Frozen Four, Coach Brad Frost said. I think all of us as a staff and our players look at it as a real privilege and a real opportunity to be able to host it, and now to be able to play in it.
Everything was going according to plan for Minnesota (26-8-5), the team making their eighth NCAA tournament appearance versus an opponent in Clarkson getting a first taste of the Dance. The Gophers led 2-0 as the third period neared its halfway point and looked to be on their way to a comfortable victory.
Not so fast. The Golden Knights (23-11-5) wanted to prolong the experience, storming back with two goals to force sudden death.
It seems like were in the entertainment business and continue to give our ticketholders extra hockey, Frost said.
For the fifth consecutive weekend, Minnesota played an overtime game.
Unfortunately for Clarkson, it was the Knights season that ended abruptly when junior captain Emily West grabbed a turnover, marched in on goalie Lauren Dahm, and tucked the puck inside the post.
I picked up the puck and saw more space than I wanted, and I just tried to take advantage of it, West said. I knew that I had been shooting all night low left, and thought maybe she would bite on that and just try and sneak it in.
Brittany Francis, the other wing on Minnesotas top line, forced the turnover with an aggressive forecheck.
Frost wasnt surprised that it was West who sealed the deal.
Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior, he said.
The goal was Wests national-best tenth game-winner.
Clarkson tied the contest at 2-2 at 18:16 of the third period on a Juana Baribeau blast from center ice that found the top corner on Noora Rty. It was the kind of shot nobody expects to go in, especially against a goalie of Rtys caliber.
Theres nobody in the rink that felt worse than her, Frost said of is star frosh.
If theres one player who doesnt ever have to say sorry, its her.
The Knights had gained the position to tie the game on one shot when Melissa Waldie converted a feed from Britney Selina after a Gopher defenseman got caught up ice. Carlee Eusepi also earned an assist.
Brit Selina picked it up and I came off the bench, Waldie said. It was a 2-on-1 and she made a good play, a pass right on the tape.
The outcome was suddenly in doubt, and both teams knew it.
It got us going; everyone was excited, Waldie said. I think it gave us momentum.
Francis opened the scoring on a first-period powerplay. She was carrying the puck toward the net, Courtney Olson of the Knights went down to block her pass, and deflected it in on the short side. West and Megan Bozek assisted.
It was somewhat of a gift, Francis said of the bounce, but she pointed to the hard work that set up the play.
Clarkson looked to have tied the game at 1-1 on their own power play in the second period, but after review, the goal was waved off.
The referee was pretty adamant that it was pretty clear that it was kicked in, Clarkson co-head coach Matt Desrosiers said.
Instead, West upped the lead to 2-0 when Sarah Ericksons shot bounced to her off of Dahms pad, and West slid the rebound into the open goal. It was one of the few times the Gophers had a good look at the net.
In November we just stood around and almost gave them too much respect, co-head coach Shannon Desrosiers said. This time, we talked about being aggressive, get in their face, get on them, play our style of game, and I think it threw them off a little bit.
West was the player for which the Knights had no solution, particularly in OT.
She definitely made a good play, Shannon Desrosiers said. Shes a solid player, probably one of the top in the country.
Clarkson took some satisfaction from advancing to the tournament for the first time and giving a good battle.
I think it is going to prepare us for next year, Waldie said. It got a lot of us ready. Were losing a bunch of really great seniors, but I think we have a good group coming in. Well come in on a high note next year.
But before thinking of next year, Clarkson can reflect on a wonderful season.
Its definitely a huge step for the program, Matt Desrosiers said. Its come a long way in a pretty short time.
Minnesota prepares for the programs seventh trip to the Frozen Four and a semifinal date with the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth.
Theres nothing better than an opportunity to play for a national championship in your own building, West said.