DULUTH, Minn. — When a goalie doesn’t allow a goal over the course of a championship weekend, it bodes well for her team.
Noora Räty of Minnesota saved all 28 shots from Minnesota-Duluth in the 2-0 championship game win of the WCHA tournament. That performance came on the heels of a 27-save shutout in the semifinal versus North Dakota and earned the junior from Espoo, Finland, the Most Outstanding Player designation for the tournament.
“We’re ecstatic to be champions of the WCHA tournament,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said.
The Gophers (31-5-2) hadn’t won a tournament title since 2005. Since then, they’d lost six championship games, including five with the WCHA championship on the line.
Frost cited Minnesota’s senior class of seven players for leading the championship run, despite a season that has been filled with adversity. He said that each one contributes something different.
One of those seniors, wing Emily West, continued her strong Final Face-Off performance, scoring the game’s first goal on a power play at 19:16 of the second period. West moved in from the top of the circle and found net low on the stick side of a screened Jennifer Harss of the Bulldogs (21-14-1).
“I didn’t see anything,” Harss said.
West credited Kelly Terry for setting the screen in front of the goaltender. The assists on the play went to Rachel Ramsey and Sarah Davis.
“I’m extremely proud of our team,” UMD coach Shannon Miller said. “We played exceptional.”
That didn’t surprise the eventual champions.
“We knew they were going to bring everything,” West said. “We didn’t expect anything less.”
Harss shut down West early in the stanza on a rare penalty shot. West tried to find an opening along the ice to Harss’ glove side, but the goaltender had her pad planted.
“Pretty much, it’s like a breakaway, so you’ve just got to be patient and have her make the first move,” Harss said. “And she did and I got it.”
The senior from Rieden, Germany was a wall in goal, stopping 32 of 33 shots that she faced.
Jessica Wong nearly pulled UMD even early in the third, but Räty got just a piece of the shot with the glove, deflecting it inches wide. When the clock ticked down to under two minutes to play, Harss left for the extra attacker. UMD applied pressure, but was unable to get the equalizer as Minnesota defenders blocked shots, including a sliding effort by West.
Instead, junior defenseman Megan Bozek added the exclamation mark with six seconds to play, collecting her own rebound off of the end boards and shooting it into the empty net for the final 2-0 score with Amanda Kessel and Jen Schoullis assisting. That started the celebration on the Minnesota bench in advance of the one that they’d have on the ice moments later.
“Two great teams going head to head,” Miller said. “One team got a bounce, one didn’t.”
The first period’s best scoring chance came on a potential UMD breakaway, but Räty raced out of the net to poke the puck away from a charging Jenna McParland and out of the zone.
Räty said that she hesitated at first on whether or not to leave the crease, but in the end, she made the right decision, just as she did all weekend.
“For us, it is a waiting game,” UMD forward Haley Irwin said. “We don’t have control of it any more, but we’re hoping our season isn’t over.”
The Bulldogs look to be in trouble in the published NCAA selection criteria, something that Miller would like to see revised.
“It needs to change to reflect reality,” she said.
Minnesota knows that its season will continue. The Gophers will learn who they will host when the NCAA selection are announced Sunday evening.
In the meantime, they can savor this victory a bit longer. Both Räty and West said it added a little extra to celebrate on Duluth’s home ice at Amsoil Arena after watching the Bulldogs celebrate two titles in Ridder Arena in 2010, an experience West called bitter.
“This tournament is as hard to win as any other,” Frost said.