DULUTH, Minn. — The Minnesota Golden Gophers played a dominant opening period and built a 2-0 lead, survived a Cornell rally in the second, and limited the Big Red attack to three shots in the final period to secure a 3-1 triumph.
Amanda Kessel sparked Minnesota (33-5-2) on the offensive end, scoring the first goal and assisting on each of the others. Kessel now has 79 points in her sophomore season.
The first goal came on a power play at 17:16, as she carried the puck to the front of the goal and found open net beyond a challenge from goaltender Amanda Mazzotta.
“[Sarah] Erickson shielded the puck nicely and left it there for me,” Kessel said. “I saw the goalie way out and I knew what I wanted to do and just took it far side and empty net there.”
The Gophers’ power play connected again 73 seconds later, with Megan Bozek hammering in a shot from the point.
“We were moving the puck around great, and someone, I think it was Sarah Erickson, just yelled, ‘Shoot!’,” Bozek said. “I saw a lane, and so I shot and had forwards in front for a screen.”
Minnesota coach Brad Frost said, “We’ve scored more goals in a period, but I don’t think we’ve had that much jump over our opponent early like that.”
He described it as “almost three different hockey games.”
The ice was tilted in one direction, as Minnesota outshot Cornell (30-5-0) by a 21-5 margin in the opening 20 minutes. The ice remained tilted as the teams changed ends in the second stanza, and this time it was the Big Red that had the edge in shots on goal, 13-9, cutting the deficit to 2-1 on the scoreboard.
“Cornell played really, really well and put a lot of pressure on us,” Frost said.
Still he thought his team did well in handling the rally by the ECAC regular season champions.
“The goal they scored was on the power play off our forward’s stick,” Frost said.
Sophomore Alyssa Gagliardi scored that goal, getting an assist from rookie Jillian Saulnier.
“I thought we were a little bit flat at the start of the game, a little bit cautious,” Cornell coach Doug Derraugh said.
Derraugh said that they didn’t really change what they were doing in the first intermission, but that they became more aggressive and executed better.
“I think that’s not how they wanted to come out in the first, so you had to expect them to come out stronger in the second,” Kessel said. “I don’t know why, but I just had no doubt in my mind from the beginning of the game.”
In the final period, the Big Red was unable to mount a strong offensive push, as Minnesota was able to thwart the majority of their rushes and clear the zone.
Emily West completed the scoring into an open net with 34 seconds to go, and the Gophers could at least breathe easier.
Noora Räty saved 20 shots and upped her record to 32-5-2 on the year.
“I just try to play my own game,” Räty said. “I trust my [defensemen]. I know that they got my back and I got their back.”
The Gophers look forward to a Sunday showdown with Wisconsin, a team that has owned them in the postseason over the previous six years.
“Playing Wisconsin is always a battle; it’s a healthy rivalry,” Bozek said. “We know how they play; they know how we play.”
Kessel acknowledged that Minnesota has been through a lot this season off the ice, with numerous family and personal issues.
“It’s unreal,” she said. “I think that’s why we were brought together so much this year. It’s helped us persevere through everything. I think that’s part of the reason why we’re here. Those things just made us come together as a team.”
Amanda Mazzotta made 38 saves in her final game for the Big Red. She thanked her teammates for that chance, after she was pulled after 20 minutes in the quarterfinal win over Boston University.
“These guys pulled out a huge win last weekend and got me another shot,” she said. “This was a lot better.”
An emotional Big Red contingent struggled with the tough loss and an end to their season. Derraugh says that he will miss this group of seniors that did so much to change the face of Cornell hockey.
“I’m going to miss the extra practices, staying late and working one-on-one,” Derraugh said. “They completely changed our culture [and] changed our program.”