MINNEAPOLIS — North Dakota was the last team to defeat Minnesota before the top-ranked Gophers went on their historic 62-game winning streak.
Since then, no team had suffered more. Ten of those 62 straight wins, including the first and the last, came at the expense of UND.
Sunday, No. 4 North Dakota (9-2-1, 7-2-1-1 WCHA) used a three-goal first period to propel it to a 3-2 win and leave Cornell as the only remaining unbeaten team in the country.
“I thought we got a couple of bounces and played much better defensively,” North Dakota coach Brian Idalski said. “I’m proud of our kids. I thought we bounced back, shrugged it off, and knew that wasn’t us. We had a much better effort all the way around today.”
While the focus of others might be on Minnesota’s winning streak, Idalski was more interested in his team.
“Mind-set-wise, we were coming in here to win points,” he said. “In the course of this season, that’s really all it was. When we beat them in March or something, then maybe I’ll dance a jig and I’ll be a little more excited.”
Meanwhile, the Gophers (13-1-0, 11-1-0-0 WCHA) have to deal with a loss for the first time since February 2012.
“There was sadness in the locker room,” captain Bethany Brausen said. “There was disappointment more than anything. But the thing about this streak and the media attention with it, it was a great run, 62 games. I was lucky enough to be a part of all those wins. But as far as our team goes, our team is 13-1, not 62-1.”
“We’re not sad because it’s over,” coach Brad Frost said. “We’re happy because we were a part of it. I’ll tip my hat to anyone who can go to 62 or 63 games without a loss.”
Still, it stung.
“We’ve got an emotional group in there,” Brausen said. “We’ve got a lot of heart in that locker room. I think that I was, of the seniors, the only one that wasn’t completely a mess, so I tried to pull it together for the rest of the team there. I just said, ‘Guys, it was going to happen.’”
Freshman Kayla Gardner of Warroad, Minn., got the visitors off and running 6:12 into the game. On a seemingly innocent play, a Gophers defenseman kicked a loose puck to Gardner, who zipped a shot that beat Amanda Leveille high into the net.
Gracen Hirschy doubled the lead with a low blast from the top of the circle through traffic four minutes later.
The visitors’ only power-play opportunity of the game yielded a rebound goal off the stick of Susanna Tapani after another two minutes had ticked away, and it was obvious that the Gophers were in trouble.
Frost said playing 40 minutes of good hockey against a top opponent was not enough.
“Success for us is simply looking yourself in the mirror tonight and asking yourself did you give everything that you could have for yourself and for your team,” Frost said. “If so, then you’re successful. Unfortunately, I think there’s going to be a lot of sad girls looking in the mirror tonight, because they know that they didn’t give everything they had for the full 60 minutes.”
Minnesota cut the deficit to one by the game’s halfway point with power-play goals by Rachel Ramsey and Sarah Davis after the first intermission.
“We’ve been so bad in the second period that we’d like to skip that one and say it is [period] one-one-three,” Idalski said. “We’d have a much better chance. I thought we weathered the storm and were able to get out of that period.”
The hosts could not get an additional puck past winning goaltender Lexie Shaw, who made 32 saves in improving to 3-0-0 in her rookie season.
“Neither one of us have time outs,” Idalski said. “Their kids are gassed; we’re gassed. It was a little reminiscent of the three-OT [game] to be honest with you. Kids didn’t have a whole lot left in the tank and they were just selling out all over the ice on both ends to finish that off.”
Sophomore goalie Leveille tasted defeat for the first time in her 17 collegiate starts. Minnesota pulled her for an extra attacker for the final 85 seconds, but although Frost said both he and his team believed they would find an equalizer, it didn’t happen.
North Dakota had golden opportunities to restore a larger lead with 15 minutes remaining but couldn’t convert on a three-on-one break and another chance with a lot of net available.
“It sure would have been nice to finish one of those off and put it back to a two-goal lead, but that’s never our M.O.,” Idalski said. “We never seem to do anything easy.”
WCHA history has demonstrated that these series benefit both teams in the long run.
“I’d play this caliber game every weekend,” Idalski said.
The contest had a playoff atmosphere with a vocal crowd of 2,435 in attendance.
“I always love coming here and playing the Gophers,” UND captain Michelle Karvinen said. “I would wish all games were like this.”
Next up for her team is a league showdown versus Wisconsin.
“We had so many good things from today’s game, we just have to keep it going for the next week,” Karvinen said. “It’s going to be nice to be home again; we’ve been away for a while now.”
Minnesota heads back on the road, where it still has a record road-winning streak intact, to face Yale.
“I think that the emotions are going to take care of themselves,” Brausen said. “I think that we’re going to be so energized and ready to go. I think all week in practice we’re going to be buckling down, fixing those things that we do want to fix. Hopefully, next weekend coming out and proving that we are the top team in the country. Prove that not only next weekend, but throughout the rest of the season.”