MINNEAPOLIS — Without having the full impact of Amanda Kessel in its arsenal, Minnesota turned to Finn power to defeat Bemidji State 5-0 in the first game of the two teams’ WCHA quarterfinal series.
Noora Räty stopped all 20 shots for the Gophers (35-0-0, 28-0-0 WCHA) giving her 40 career shutouts and 14 for the campaign, respectively surpassing and equaling NCAA records held by former Wisconsin goaltender Jessie Vetter.
“We obviously have a lot of great players, but whenever you have her in the nets, you have a chance,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “You’ve got a probably better chance than anybody else because your goalie is better than their goalie. So to see her break the record – at the beginning of the year, it looked like it was a record that probably wouldn’t be reached. I’m really happy for her. I think she continues to cement herself as the best collegiate goalie of all time.”
Räty said the Gophers’ defense is a big part of the accomplishment.
“They’re just a huge part, the whole team,” she said. “Even offense, the way they backcheck and the way our defense block shots every game. I feel like they deserve this more than I do.”
On the offensive end, Räty’s countrywoman, defenseman Mira Jalosuo, broke a scoreless tie at 3:50 of the second period. Her ninth goal of the season was also her fourth game-winner.
“Maybe it’s something to do that you’re a senior and maybe you want to win that game a little bit more,” Jalosuo said.
“The four years that I’ve played with her, she comes up at the biggest times, but when she’s not getting points, she’s playing such solid defense that it’s hard to look at her points,” Minnesota defenseman Megan Bozek said of her classmate. “I think she likes to score against Bemidj – that’s what I told her before the game and another huge goal to start us off today.”
The Gophers got four third-period goals to pull away. Bozek scored twice to bookend goals by Kelly Terry and Rachael Bona.
Bemidji State (6-25-2, 5-22-1 WCHA) was able to hang with the Gophers until the third period in large part thanks to the play of goalie Jessica Havel. She made 41 saves, including a number of sensational stops of point-blank scoring opportunities.
“If we could have figured out a way to score a goal, maybe it would have been a different outcome,” Bemidji State coach Steve Sertich said. “The kids played hard again, so that’s all you can ask, and Havel was awesome in goal for a long time in that game.”
Jalosuo’s low drive from the right point eluded Havel and gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead heading into the second intermission. Bona and Hannah Brandt assisted.
“I don’t know why I always score against Bemidji,” Jalosuo said. “I feel like I just have been lucky. Hannah Brandt was doing a great screen on my shot, so it was pretty easy job to get the goal. I knew that if I just hit the net it will go in.”
The Gophers were unable to increase their advantage in the middle frame. Havel robbed Meghan Lorence on the back door and Rachel Ramsey’s shot bounced harmlessly off of the crossbar.
“We had some points there in the second period where it was tilted, but we weathered the storm,” Sertich said. “I was hoping we could go into the third even or maybe up one. We were down one, but if we get a look and we get a goal, maybe things change.”
Still, it looked like Havel was going to be able to hold the deficit at one and give her team a shot to rally for a win as she continued to frustrate the hosts.
“She gives us a chance,” Sertich said. “She’s making saves that [Zuzana] Tomcikova made for four years and all of a sudden, she’s doing that for us. Anytime you’ve got a goalie that gives you a chance, it’s awesome.”
Finally, Minnesota got an emotional lift from Kessel.
“She’s still dinged up and she showed great leadership just on the bench and just having her there if we needed her,” Frost said. “She wanted to try it there on a couple of power plays and then she said, ‘You know, I think I could probably go for an even-strength shift,’ and that was obviously a huge shift for us to get that second goal.”
The Gophers were able to apply pressure in the Beavers’ end and eventually, Kessel got the puck to Maryanne Menefee, who gave it to Bozek. The senior carried to the crease and beat Havel on the far side 4:45 into the final period.
Under four minutes later, Terry tipped in a shot by Ramsey. It was Terry’s 100th point at Minnesota over the course of her first three seasons.
Bethany Brausen hit Bona coming down the slot on a two-on-one break and the sophomore wing finished the opportunity for a 4-0 lead at 11:19.
Bozek completed the scoring with just over three minutes to play with an unassisted goal.
“The forwards definitely give us an opportunity to shoot from the point, which has been a key to our success this year,” Bozek said. “I think getting shots through against Bemidji State is a hard task for us as we found out a few weekends ago, but we got them through.”
Kessel got the puck behind Havel on a first-period power play, but although the goal light flickered on, the referee emphatically signaled no goal and upon review, the replay was inconclusive as to whether the puck puck crossed all the way over the line before the goaltender and her teammates pulled it back.
Terry had a point-blank shot from the low slot on another power play in the closing seconds, but Havel came up big once more. The zero remained on the other side of the scoreboard as well.
“Bemidji is a really hard team to play for a goalie, because every time they get a shot, it’s a pretty good chance and that’s their game plan,” Räty said.
In Saturday’s second game of the series, the Beavers will have to find a way to solve Räty and get on the board to extend their season.
“It’s easier said than done,” Sertich said. “They’re a team that dominates everybody. I’d like to try and get a little bit better forecheck going maybe and create some looks that we just didn’t get tonight.”