MINNEAPOLIS — Though the game clock at Ridder Arena read one minute to play, the crowd rose to its feet already knowing what was about to happen.
As the final buzzer sounded on a perfect season for Minnesota, gloves, sticks, helmets and hands all flew upward as the team mobbed senior goaltender Noora Räty in her net.
Minnesota finished off its 41-0 perfect season by winning its second straight NCAA Division I championship Sunday afternoon, and fourth overall, beating the Boston University Terriers, 6-3.
“This is an incredibly special team, and one that will go down in the history books as one of the best ever, if not the best ever,” coach Brad Frost said afterward, unable to fully grasp the meaning of what his team had just accomplished.
Räty, the tournament’s most outstanding player for the second straight year, answered that question by saying the team is the best in women’s hockey history.
“It doesn’t matter how you say it, no other team has done this,” she said. “So our record speaks for itself to the fact that it is the best season in women’s hockey history.”
Terriers forward Jill Cardella had similar thoughts.
“They are 41-0,” she said. “No team has ever done that.”
Frost was impressed with the way his team did it — winning every game against tough Western Collegiate Hockey Association opponents, beating the unfamiliar nonconference teams, and handling the ever-mounting pressure to make the Frozen Four on home ice.
The road to the championship wasn’t easy for Minnesota at times. Minnesota needed overtime to beat Boston College, 3-2, Friday evening in the Frozen Four semifinal, and the weekend before that needed triple overtime to beat North Dakota by that same score.
Frost said his team’s performance was affected by the pressure once the tournament started, but played a solid game Sunday.
Senior defenseman Megan Bozek said the team had to play its style of hockey and not let the emotions of the championship game affect them.
A fast start with a goal by Mira Jalosuo helped them do just that. She scored on a power play 11 minutes into the game with a one-timer past Terriers’ goalie Kerrin Sperry. It was yet another lead at home for Minnesota, but perhaps more importantly, it put Boston University behind for the first time in the NCAA tournament.
“I was shocked that shot went in,” Jalosuo said. “I’m obviously happy that happened.”
Forward Amanda Kessel said Jalosuo is nicknamed ‘clutch’ for all of her timely goals this season. Jalosuo credits her teammates for giving her good passes.
Getting the lead in games had been a key for success all season, said Kessel, who on Saturday won the Patty Kazmaier award for being the best player in women’s college hockey.
“Most of the time, we do have a lead and I think that makes all of us more comfortable,” she said. “I think that just make us more confident as the game goes on.”
Minnesota’s next score came short-handed when freshman Hannah Brandt banked a puck off of Sperry and in with less than two minutes left in the period.
Boston University quickly responded with a power-play goal of its own from Sarah Lefort, who beat Räty to a rebound and scored on a put-back less than a minute later. The score remained 2-1 after the first period.
Terriers’ captain Marie-Philip Poulin missed some of the period with a leg injury after blocking a shot near the Terriers’ blue line. She was helped off the ice and went to the locker room, but returned to the game a few minutes later.
A turning point in the game came early in the second period, when Räty made a save from post to post to preserve the Gophers lead at 2-1.
“If that goes in, it’s a different ball game,” Bozek said.
Even when Minnesota led 4-1 entered the locker room at the end of the second period, Kessel and Räty said they didn’t feel the game had been decided.
“Going in between periods, we knew that they were going to come out hard and lay it all on the line,” Kessel said.
Another crucial moment came in the third period when Poulin skated by the defense and had one-on-one chance to score. Räty was there to stop it and give Minnesota some momentum. Räty had four saves in the final period, and finished with 21.
Rachel Ramsey soon after made the score 5-2 when Maryanne Menefee fed her the puck out in front of Sperry.
“I think that’s really when the game changed,” Kessel said. “I really got back to the bench and I was like, ‘Wow, this game could have been 4-3 and now we’re up 5-2.’”
“For me, that’s really the point when I felt that we were pretty secure.”
Boston University scored a goal just 1:48 into the third period, and had a power play opportunity to keep the pressure on Minnesota with plenty of game left.
But each time the Terriers threatened, Minnesota responded with a goal or aggressive play to control the pace of the game from there on.
Each team scored twice in the final period, capped by Kessel’s empty-net goal with less than a minute remaining. Kessel, who had two goals and two assists, eclipsed the 100-career point mark with her assist on Rachel Ramsey’s goal earlier in the period, and finished with 101 points on the season.
Terriers coach Brian Durocher said his team made good plays, but Minnesota made theirs better.
“I tried to tell them after the second period that when it was 4-1, three of the four goals were one-timers,” he said. “You could put a bucket of pucks out there, and there’s a lot of people who couldn’t hit one one-timer in that situation, and they had three goals on one-timers: you had the drop pass to Kessel, and two power-play goals off of the plank.”
Boston University finished the season with 28 wins, the most in program history.
The game was relatively even from a statistical standpoint. The shots on goal were even through the first two periods, though Minnesota eventually won the battle, 29-24.
Each team had four penalties for a total of eight minutes.
There was no reasoning for how the undefeated steak got started, Frost said. The team only wanted to prove how good it truly was to the rest of the country — with the slogan “Leave no doubt.”
Now, two championships and 49 straight wins later, there is no doubt as to who the best team in college women’s hockey is.
“This team is a group that will be imprinted forever in history,” Frost said.