MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Minnesota hadn’t won a game after trailing by more than two goals since Jan. 26, 2008.
However, when Bemidj State forged ahead by a pair of markers early in the second period, one sensed that this time, something was different.
The Gophers (20-4-1, 14-4-1-0 WCHA) entered the final period still down one, but completed their comeback with two goals off the stick of senior wing Emily West for a 3-2 victory.
“Really important for our club, one to get the win, but I think the way it happened tonight was great just going forward,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Showed the character and grit of our team. It’s been obviously an emotional week. Talked to the players in between the second and third about we just have to find a way. Life isn’t perfect and fair all the time, but just have to find a way to get the job done.”
Both teams were impacted by an event off the ice early in the week. Nicole Anderson, sister of Minnesota forward Stephanie Anderson and a former Bemidji State student, passed away unexpectedly on Monday.
“It was an emotional week to say the least, but I think it really showed the character of the team,” Minnesota forward Sarah Davis said. “The character of Steph – it’s unreal – but we pulled through, she pulled through.”
The Beavers felt the weight as well.
“Nicole lived in Bemidji and actually roomed with a couple of our girls, so it was the same for both teams, I think,” BSU defenseman Montana Vichorek said. “Obviously, it probably was a little harder for them, they had a family member on the team, but I think since a lot of us knew her, too, it was a pretty even emotion level.”
Vichorek agreed that such a sudden death puts what happens on the ice in perspective.
“It is eye-opening,” she said. “She was so young. We’re lucky to be doing what we’re doing.”
West solved the riddle that was Zuzana Tomcikova on the power play at 9:05 of the third period to tie the score at 2-2, stealing a lose puck from the prone goaltender, circling behind the net, and converting a wrap-around attempt.
“I almost missed, to be honest,” West said. “She played awesome and I think we all were getting a little frustrated to that point where we were trying to stay positive, but it was just, ‘How are these not going in?’ Finally, something helped us out and it started to go.”
When West jumped on a puck and whistled an unassisted goal upstairs exactly four minutes later, the crowd of 1,619 erupted.
“We have great fans and when they get into Ridder, I think it’s an unreal place to play,” West said. “And the band – nothing beats it. It feels good, and everyone can say that it feels good to score, but overall, just having a team behind our backs like we do makes it feel even better.”
West’s rush looked innocent compared to earlier Minnesota chances, but she found room from the left wing.
“Tomcikova is a big girl and goes down quite a bit,” West said. “Luckily, I got it right over her ear, otherwise, it probably would have hit her knob, or even blocker or shoulder, because she’s so tall. Luck was on my side and got it right by the ear there.”
For their part, the Beavers (14-10-2, 8-10-1-0 WCHA) played well throughout, but allowed Minnesota too many chances, and eventually, that proved costly. The home team put 46 shots on net, including 19 on the power play, and the final power-play shot proved crucial.
“In the third, we just didn’t take care of the puck a couple times and paid for it,” Beavers coach Steve Sertich said. “I thought we withstood a lot of that pressure and came back. That third goal hurt.”
The Gophers haven’t enjoyed much success when their top line has been held off the scoreboard, as they were by BSU. This time, they were able to triumph because of contributions from others like Davis, who had two primary assists.
“Our first line plays an enormous role on the team,” Davis said. “They get momentum if they don’t score; they get tons of shots. It falls on the other lines as well to produce. We can’t just rely on them for the whole season.”
Production was difficult for anyone, as Tomcikova made 43 stops in defeat.
“I thought Zuzana was outstanding in goal, and kept us in there, kept us in there,” Sertich said. “I wished we could have helped her a little bit more.”
Kristin Huber found herself alone in front of Noora Räty after a feed from Mackenzie Thurston and zipped the puck into the net and the Beavers owned the game’s first goal 14:13 into the night.
The Beavers doubled their lead a minute into the second period. Kimberly Lieder’s shot from the right point found its way by a screened Räty into the top of the net, with Thurston picking up another helper.
“We’ve really struggled with Friday night games,” Vichorek said. “We usually don’t come out very strong and I think we finally did.”
Minnesota began its rally six minutes after the second Beavers goal, as on a rush, Davis sent a pass to Rachael Bona that she redirected through Tomcikova.
Sertich said his team needs a similar effort to take points from Saturday’s series finale.
“We need to score on our power play if we get some chances,” he said. “I thought we battled hard; we’re just going to have to battle again.”