MINNEAPOLIS — Eight different players tallied a goal as Minnesota defeated Bemidji State, 8-0, to complete a sweep of a quarterfinal series and advance to the WCHA Final Face-Off.
Amanda Kessel did not step on the ice for the third game out of the last four, but the Gophers (36-0-0, 28-0-0 WCHA) were led by their other three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award.
Noora Räty turned in her 15th shutout of the year, a record in the NCAA era. She’s answered every question imaginable in recent weeks pertaining to shutouts, so the media got more creative afterward and asked what she’d be like if she was a skater instead of a goaltender.
“I would play left wing,” Räty said. “I would say I have pretty good dangles. I would have hands like Kessel and I would shoot like Hannah Brandt.”
When asked if she is as quick as Kessel, she said, “I may be faster.”
Senior Megan Bozek and center Brandt each contributed a goal and two assists. The three points for Bozek gives her 52 on the season, the most ever by a Minnesota defenseman, while Brandt’s 77 points are tops for a rookie Gopher.
“[Brandt] and [Kessel] make each other go, but both of them separate are pretty darn good too,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said.
Minnesota also found offense from some less traditional sources: junior defenseman Baylee Gillanders fired in her first goal of the season, and rookie Brook Garzone and senior Katie Frischmann each scored for the second time.
Milica McMillen, Meghan Lorence, and Sarah Davis also connected for the Gophers, with 13 of the 16 who skated in the game registering at least one point. For the weekend, all 17 Gophers who skated a shift got onto the score sheet.
After keeping the first game close until late, the Beavers (6-26-2, 5-22-1 WCHA) fell behind less than four minutes into Saturday’s game two.
McMillen rushed the puck from center ice, delayed for an instant in the slot, and flicked a shot into the top-left corner of the goal at 3:49.
Becky Kortum won a puck battle along the boards and moved it behind the net to Meghan Lorence, who beat Jessica Havel with a wraparound on the far post six minutes later.
“We came out with great energy right from the drop of the puck,” Frost said. “Got up on our toes and put some real good pressure on them early in the first period there.”
BSU survived three Minnesota shots that kissed iron in the frame, and got to the intermission down only two with a chance to regroup.
“I didn’t think we had great jump to start the game; I was expecting a little bit more,” Bemidji State coach Steve Sertich said.
That could partially be attributed to an early deficit.
“It really helps when we get that goal in the first period,” Brandt said. “We haven’t been getting that in the past few games. When we got that, it kind of takes the wind out of the sails of the other team.”
Whatever plan the visitors had for the middle frame, it changed when a Bozek blast banked in off of Brandt 77 seconds after play resumed.
“I honestly didn’t even see it,” Brandt said. “It hit me and went in. I was just trying to get out of the crease, to be honest.”
Gillander’s high shot from the left point cleared traffic and found twine behind Havel 22 seconds later to put Minnesota up 4-0 and produce a boisterous celebration alongside the Gophers’ bench.
“[The Beavers] probably thought it was a little obnoxious,” Gillanders said. “It’s always nice to see your teammates be probably happier for you than I was.”
Trailing by six in the latter stages of the second period, the Beavers had an extended power play, including 65 seconds of five-on-three time, to try to break the ice. Instead, Minnesota killed off the penalties, capped by Garzone’s short-handed goal to increase the lead to seven by the second intermission.
For Garzone, it was her first goal in Ridder Arena.
“I was fortunate to be on the PK, especially with Hannah Brandt,” she said. “We put a lot of pressure on the forecheck on the PK. She fought for the puck and got me the puck. I just had a clear shot, lower right.”
The game had already been out of reach for quite some time.
“It was 2-0,” Sertich said. “If we can get one and make it close — we weren’t able to do that, and the bottom fell out in the second.”
Bemidji State responded with a stronger performance in its final period of the season, generating 11 of its 19 shots.
“I was proud of the fact that the kids don’t quit,” Sertich said. “They played hard right to the end. That’s important to me. I think there’s a passion in that room, and that’s important that we carry on that tradition.”
For the game, the Gophers fired 38 shots at Havel and Abby Ryplanski, who came on in relief after the fifth goal.
Much of the game was back and forth, as the Beavers brought a more aggressive approach from what they displayed in a defensive-minded effort on Friday.
“We figured they would, just because you’ve got to score to win, so they opened things up a little bit,” Frost said. “I thought we handled the pressure pretty well, and we were able to counter a little easier tonight.”
One of the many factors to Minnesota’s success is the ability of its blue line to handle the puck when pressured.
“It definitely kept us defense on our toes,” Gillanders said. “We always like that, to be pushed. As we keep going into the playoffs, games are going to get tougher.”
The challenge will also increase if the Gophers must venture forward without Kessel.
“It’s always hard to lose a player — I think she’s the best forward in the world right now,” Sertich said. “Obviously, that’s going to have some effect, but they seemed to cover for her tonight. It remains to be seen what happens when they play teams that are of a higher caliber than we are.”
For Bemidji State, the season comes to an end, and with it, the careers of a class of eight seniors: Molly Arola, Emily Erickson, Jamie Hatheway, Havel, Sadie Lundquist, MacKenzie Thurston, Erika Wheelhouse, and Abby Williams. They leave having equaled the program mark for wins in their careers with 49.
“It’s been a great group,” Sertich said. “Not only on the ice, but off the ice. They’re great kids. We’ve had such a tough finish for them this year. We were hoping for better things; we just didn’t quite get it together. They’ll be missed for what they’ve given us, both on and off the ice.”