MINNEAPOLIS — As she did last season, Noora Räty has become extra stingy just in time for the postseason.
The senior goaltender turned in her fourth straight shutout, including three in the WCHA tournament, as Minnesota defeated Ohio State 5-0 to reach the league’s championship game for the fifth straight season.
“Really excited about the opportunity for tomorrow,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Any time you get a chance to get another trophy and to hang a banner, it’s a fun thing and we know North Dakota will be ready to go, and so will we.”
The Gophers (37-0-0) got a pair of goals from freshman Maryanne Menefee in tying the Wisconsin NCAA record for wins in a season, set by the Badgers just two years ago.
“Congratulations to Minnesota,” said OSU coach Nate Handrahan. “They’ve had a great season, played a tough game tonight, were a lot to handle. I’m very proud of our girls, especially our senior class that led us this season — just a group that embodied the team concept. I think that was indicative in our play a large portion of the year. We ran into a never-ending buzz saw tonight.”
The Buckeyes (19-15-3) did a lot of the things that they needed to do to win. They limited their penalties, giving Minnesota only three power-play opportunities, just two of which came while the game was in doubt.
“When you have a power play that’s running 30-plus percent, I’d say you want to be two or less if you can,” Handrahan said.
Ohio State also kept Amanda Kessel off the scoresheet, something nobody had managed in a game where she had played this season.
“When you’ve got a player of Kessel’s ability – she’s got speed, she’s got playmaking ability, she can shoot the puck – it’s all hands on deck,” Handrahan said.
The visitors did generate offense as the game went along, finishing with 24 shots on Räty.
“I think when we put some pressure on them with the forecheck, that created opportunity for us to get some takeaways, which helped manufacture some chances and chance creation,” Handrahan said.
Ohio State also competed hard throughout in front of 2,024 fans.
“I think you saw us digging in our heels and saying we’re not going to stand around and take our licks, we’re going to put something back at them,” Handrahan said.
But for all of items that were checked off of the OSU to-do list, the Gophers were able to gain a lead and keep it, converting in the final 30 seconds of their only power-play opportunity in the first period.
“We had four opportunities to clear the puck,” Handrahan said. “We executed the way we needed to. We got some timely shot blocks in that situation, we just didn’t get the puck clear four times and so it was kind of a self-inflicted wound.”
Finally, Milica McMillen unleashed a shot from the right side that bounced into the net off of Menefee.
“I think we had a good forecheck,” Menefee said. “They had a few chances to ice it out and we just kept it in and Milica got a nice shot on goal and I just happened to be there and it just deflected off me. Just trying to get in front of the net and make some havoc.”
Menefee’s goal at 12:29 put the Gophers on the board and they were able to add to the lead just over six minutes later.
“I think it started with Baylee Gillanders rushing the puck up and finding Hannah Brandt in front of the net and I really think that got us going tonight,” Minnesota captain Megan Bozek said.
Mira Jalosuo made the score 3-0 just over six minutes into the middle frame and Menefee and Bozek provided goals for the ultimate margin in the final period.
“I kind of saw the goalie was out of the net, so I had to take a big windup and hope for it to go in,” Bozek said of her 19th goal of the year, matching her jersey number.
Chelsea Knapp made 29 saves for the Buckeyes.
For the fifth straight game, Minnesota kept zeroes on the opposition’s side of the scoreboard.
“The most important thing I thought was just defending,” Frost said. “As long as we can defend well, we’re going to have an opportunity to win every game here. It starts with Noora, but also our big strong ‘D’ and our forwards coming back.”
Räty said she took a lesson from the overtime game versus Bemidji State on Feb. 16, the last time she allowed a goal.
“I didn’t play my best then and I got to play better, or otherwise we won’t do well in the playoffs,” she said. “We’re on a pretty good roll right now.”