MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota has trailed only twice this season, both times versus North Dakota, and the second deficit lasted considerably longer than the first.
The Gophers (22-0-0, 16-0-0 WCHA) experienced their first intermission of the year while down on the scoreboard, drew even in the second period, and emerged with a 6-3 victory after a back-and-forth final 20 minutes.
“What an incredible hockey game, probably the most exciting game that we’ve had this year,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Lot of adversity throughout the game with penalties and being down, us finally taking the lead and then coming right back. Just huge swings of momentum. Our team just gutted it out.”
UND (13-9-0, 8-8-0 WCHA) kept Amanda Kessel from scoring until the final minute, when she tallied twice to go with her two assists.
“We’re still monitoring her time and things like that, but if there’s a better hockey player in the country, I’d like to know who it is,” Frost said. “She is so special and she’s impacting the game at an incredible rate right now.”
Hannah Brandt added a goal and two assists and Rachael Bona, Megan Bozek, and Rachel Ramsey also found the net for Minnesota.
North Dakota torched the Gophers’ penalty kill, as it was successful on half of its six power-play chances. Michelle Karvinen led the way with two goals and an assist, Jocelyne Lamoureux had one of each and both Monique Lamoureux and Josefine Jakobsen dished a pair of helpers.
“The puck movement was terrific,” UND coach Brian Idalski said. “We’re pulling the trigger a little quicker with the shot, not waiting for the shot, and just kind of putting some pucks in there and looking for some bounces through traffic. They did tremendous.”
Any time Minnesota had a chance to clear the puck on the kill and failed over the weekend, it invariably wound up in its net shortly thereafter.
“You look at the five players they have on the ice, particularly the top three with the Lamoureuxs and Karvinen, they’re as good as anybody,” Frost said. “Jocelyne one-times the puck better than anybody. We found a way to finally kill that last one, but getting clears when you’re playing against a good power play is critical.”
The top UND power-play unit that includes Jakobsen and Meghan Dufault in addition to those three was dominant on the weekend.
“That’s probably the best game for a power play we’ve had all year,” Jocelyne Lamoureux said. “We really just got to keep it going, because down the stretch, special teams is really what makes a difference in games.”
The game-winner came off of the stick of Ramsey nine minutes into the final stanza. Just 19 seconds after UND had tied the contest at 3-3, she let one fly from the point and her shot found the net behind Shelby Amsley-Benzie.
“We had a lot of shots blocked yesterday [and] a lot of shots missed,” Ramsey said. “I’m not going to say the same thing didn’t happen today. There were quite a few, but the right ones went through at the right time.”
Ramsey nearly doubled the lead on a breakaway when she came out of the box nine minutes later, but the North Dakota goaltender won that duel.
“That one is going to haunt me in my dreams for a while here,” she said. “Some go in and some don’t.”
Jocelyne Lamoureux opened the scoring on a power play in the first two minutes, one-timing a pass by Noora Räty. UND carried that lead into the intermission, although Kessel shot just wide on a couple of grade-A chances and Megan Bozek rang a pipe.
“We got the benefit of playing with the lead a little bit and then playing tied,” Idalski said. “It was just a good hockey game all the way around.”
Minnesota tied it up in the second period with a power-play goal of its own. As a UND penalty expired and a five-on-three became a five-on-four, Mira Jalosuo put a shot on goal, Kelly Terry chipped the puck into the crease and Bona knocked it into the net.
Brandt gave the Gophers their first lead of the day with a top-corner snipe 34 seconds into period three.
Karvinen answered four minutes later, beating a screened Räty.
“They came out in the third and got that quick one,” Idalski said. “I was really proud of our kids to be able to answer back.”
Bozek blasted a puck upstairs as Minnesota was the team with the power-play opportunity to give her team a 3-2 lead a couple of minutes later.
“We had talked about getting shots blocked and just finding a way to get shots through,” Bozek said.
Once again, Karvinen answered before two minutes had elapsed, but that proved to be the visitors’ final score of the day.
“We can’t have lapses every time we tie it up,” Jocelyne Lamoureux said. “It’s tough to win a game when we can’t keep that momentum going.”
Minnesota has now surrendered 18 goals on the season and UND inflicted exactly half of that damage.
“We knew coming into the season that we had the potential for that to be a bit of a strength,” Idalski said. “Noora is such a tremendous goalie. We have so much respect for her and the way she plays. To be able to put some goals behind her is a difficult task.”
UND looks ahead to another critical series as the Badgers invade Grand Forks.
“We have to have a short memory,” Jocelyne Lamoureux said. “Wisconsin is going to be a big weekend for us, especially with PairWise. It is disappointing, because we did play pretty good.”
As has been the theme in Minnesota games this year, the opponent’s “good” hasn’t been enough.
“It was fun,” Ramsey said. “I’m not going to say every game isn’t fun, but this was one of those games where you make some memories. Pretty fun environment to play in [and] the crowd was totally into it, which makes it all the better.”
A crowd of 2,703 saw the Gophers survive perhaps their toughest test of the season.
“It was good for us,” Bozek said. “We’ve never been down for longer than a minute, which was to North Dakota in the beginning of the year, but it’s adversity that we’re going to have to face. We’d rather see it in the beginning of January than in the end of March.”