MINNEAPOLIS — In recent meetings, the first goal of the game has often been crucial when the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and the Minnesota Gophers meet. In their latest encounter in the second game of the WCHA Final Face-Off, the Gophers (26-8-2 overall, 18-8-2-1 in the WCHA) lost that battle but won the war with a 4-2 triumph.
Minnesota got four goals and two assists from players who weren’t on the team’s active roster a year ago when the Bulldogs (22-8-3, 18-7-3-0) dropped them in both the WCHA and NCAA tournaments.
“I thought our team was tremendous tonight,” said Minnesota head coach Brad Frost. “The players just played extremely hard, right from Noora (Räty) on our back end, all the way out.”
The most prominent addition was Amanda Kessel, the WCHA Rookie of the Year, who got loose for a hat trick, scoring once in each period.
“In an exhibition I had a hat trick, but it’s not the same,” Kessel said. “To get one in the playoffs is pretty unbelievable.”
The other Gopher goal came off of the stick of frosh Kelly Terry and put Minnesota ahead to stay midway through the game.
“The two freshmen that are sitting up here tonight obviously are a big key to our team and didn’t play like freshmen tonight, nor have they throughout the whole year,”
After falling behind on an early goal by Bulldog sophomore Audrey Cournoyer, Minnesota drew even 15:54 into the tilt as Kessel got her first with assists going to Megan Bozek and Sarah Erickson.
“I tried getting the first shot off and kind of made the goalie go down,” Kessel said. “She was scrambling to get up, so I just put it anywhere on net and it went in.”
The two Minnesota forwards on the WCHA All-Rookie Team put their team up 3-1 in a span of just over two minutes. Terry outraced the Bulldog defense up the ice, made a move to her forehand, and was able to get the puck by UMD’s Jennifer Harss.
“I faked to my backhand and slid across and had a lot of the net,” Terry said. “The goalie got her arm back, but I still had a bit of room to slide it past her on my strong side on my forehand.”
Assists on the play went to defenseman Mira Jalosuo, whose pass sprung Terry, and freshman center Sarah Davis.
Kessel tallied her second goal when she picked the top corner, again assisted by Bozek and Erickson.
While down a skater, the fleet wing boosted the Gopher lead to 4-1, executing a perfect 2-on-1 break with Jen Schoullis and banging in a pass across the slot.
“I try not to get that in my head, but obviously, got to come out and show that I deserve Rookie of the Year,” she said.
UMD had their best period offensively in the third, but Räty denied 14 shots and was only beaten by Brienna Gillanders late power-play marker that changed the score, but not the outcome.
“Noora Räty, she’s a great goalie,” WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Jocelyne Larocque said. “We did have a lot of chances, and I think we would have liked to capitalize on more chances, but we had a great third period.”
“This was kind of my revenge for them,” Räty said. “I just got back from the Olympics last year, so I was pretty tired, but now I’m 100 percent and just wanted to show those guys that we are a better team.”
Both goaltenders saw a lot of rubber, as Räty had 32 saves while Harss made 39.
“We played well; we played really hard,” Bulldog coach Shannon Miller said. “Obviously, we’re missing Haley Irwin, but the players really just rose up and worked and created some really, really good opportunities. That was a really good game, I thought closer than the score showed.”
The Bulldogs await the NCAA bracket announcement to learn where they will be heading for their national quarterfinal.
“We definitely won’t be hosting,” Miller said. “I imagine Minnesota will, there was a pretty good chance. We just played each other for like a million games, so you want a fresh opponent. I think a fresh opponent is good this time of the year.”
Minnesota advances to their tenth WCHA championship game in the 12 years of the event, where Kessel gets to take on her hometown team.
“No better team to be playing tomorrow than Wisconsin,” she said.