Underclassmen contributions put Minnesota in women’s title game

DURHAM, N.H. — Minnesota’s list of seniors touts some of the biggest names in the college hockey world, with players like Amanda Leveille, Hannah Brandt and Amanda Kessel.

But passing on the torch on from the winningest class in program history has been near seamless for the gold and maroon. On the biggest stage of their fledgling careers, two first-year players put their mark on the scoresheet for Minnesota, including the overtime game-winning goal by Sarah Potomak.

Putting in the game-winner with five minutes left in the first overtime was a highlight in the already-illustrious first year for Potomak. The WCHA Rookie of the Year has had her spot on the international stage for Canada in the Under-18 World Championships, but sending her team to the national championship holds high esteem.

“Probably the best, No. 1 [goal] right now, at this point,” she said, smiling.

Potomak’s goal showed a glimmer of the positioning and skill that has been behind her 52 points this season.

“[It was] kind of a loose puck, I think their defenseman had possession of it, and ‘Poty’ just kept moving her feet and picked her pocket a little bit, and got a quick shot off,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “I just saw it go in the back of the net. We were pretty happy about that.”

Taylor Williamson started the freshman contributions early in the game, putting the Golden Gophers up two minutes into the period after receiving a pass from captain Lee Stecklein as she hung around in front Wisconsin’s Ann-Marie Desbiens’ crease.

“It was huge, there’s no question,” Frost said. “Wisconsin got a goal from Sophia Shaver on their third line, we get one from Taylor there to open the scoring.”

The reach of the younger players doesn’t end there, with the third line of two freshmen Sophia Skarzynski and Williamson with sophomore Cara Piazza working to create opportunities for the Golden Gophers across the ice.

“That [Williamson goal] was a huge goal for her and any time you can get contributions from your third line in particular, it’s really big,” Frost said. “That’s one of the things we’ve been talking about, with the addition of Amanda [Kessel], we’ve been able to shift people and I think our third line might have been our most offensive forechecking line all night.”

Minnesota’s depth proved effective in bringing the Golden Gophers back in their quest to defend the national title, as six players posted points on the night.

“There’s your big-time players, and in games like this, your big-time players have to step up, but there has to be some unsung heroes as well,” Frost said. “And Taylor, and I guess you can call ‘Poty’ an unsung hero, even though she’s national rookie of the year and playing on our first line.”

There’s a great deal of confidence from Kessel in the work that Potomak has put in this season, but even more in the potential her rookie linemate has as well.

“It’s been awesome to play with her,” said Kessel. “I think it’s just great, she always wants to learn and you know I already think she’s a great player and she’s willing to do anything to improve. I think in a couple more years, she’s going to be dangerous, but I’ve just been really happy that I’ve gotten the chance to play with her.”