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Minnesota Women's Hockey: Gophers Defeat RIT 6-2 to Advance to Frozen Four

The Gophers will see a familiar foe in the NCAA semifinals Friday

Hannah Brandt meet Bobby Orr
Hannah Brandt meet Bobby Orr

The Gophers used a quick start and their excellent power play to take control of their NCAA Quarterfinal game against RIT and advance to the NCAA Women's Frozen Four at Ridder Arena next weekend.  The Gophers will face WCHA rival Wisconsin in the NCAA semifinals next Friday at 5:00 PM.

The Gophers jumped out to an early lead thanks to Milica McMillen's 11th goal of the season.  The Gophers had spend about 90 seconds controlling the play in the RIT zone with their number one line of Maryanne Menefee, Dani Cameranesi and Hannah Brandt.  Cameranesi took the puck in the corner and passed it to McMillen in the left circle where she ripped a blast past RIT goalie Ali Binnington to put the Gophers ahead.  The Gophers stretched the lead to 2-0 48 seconds later when Kate Schipper took a pass near the line line, sped past a RIT defender and put a wrist shot past Binnigton.

The Gophers then had to deal with some adversity as star freshman Kelly Pannek was assessed a five minute major penalty for checking from behind, and a game misconduct.  Just over five minutes into the game, the Gophers were down to two centers.  Megan Wolfe moved back to center from her defensive spot and played their the remainder of the game.

The RIT five minute power-play was broken up by a goalie interference penalty of their own, however in the second half of the power play, they struck to get on the board.  Carly Payerl slammed home a rebound to cut the Gopher lead to 2-1 with 10:25 left in the first period.  The Gophers would get their first power play attempt of the game a few minutes later after RIT was called for roughing after the whistle.  Senior co-captain Rachel Ramsey made them pay by ripping a slapper from the blue line past Binnington to give the Gophers a 3-1 lead.  That's how the first period would end.

The referees made a surprise announcement before the start of the second period when they said that at the end of the first, Gopher senior Meghan Lorence was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct for butt-ending.  The Gophers were now down two forwards from their second line, and would need to play with only fifteen of their dressed 17 skaters the rest of the game.  The Gophers looked much more at ease killing the second major penalty, not allowing RIT a shot on goal until the very end of the power-play.

The Gophers would continue to dominate the remainder of the second period, and would pout the game away with their prowess on the power-play.  Maryanne Menefee scored her 22nd goal of the season on a gorgeous passing play 8:28 into the second period.  Ramsey passed into the corner for Schipper who found Menefee all alone in the slot in front of the net. She put a gorgeous wrist shot in the upper corner past Binnington to put the Gophers up 4-1.  Five and a half minutes later the Gophers made it 5-1 when Patty Kazmaier finalist Hannah Brandt scored a "Bobby Orresque" goal as she took the puck and drove to the front of the net.  She was tripped and went flying into the air in front of the goal, but as she was going down flipped the puck past Binnington and into the net to put Minnesota up 5-1.  That would be how the second period would end.

Th third period would be fairly uneventful as the Gophers felt like the ame was under control and took the foot off the gas.  RIT put up a challenge and cut the Gopher lead to 5-2 by a second goal by Payerl with 2;19 to play, but Lee Stecklein would put the final dagger in the Tiger's coffin with a 150-foot empty net goal with 34 seconds left to complete the 6-2 Minnesota victory.

Postgame, Minnesota coach Brad Frost was happy with his team's play, especially being down two players for a majority of the game.  "I think the magnitude of the game is what really brought out the best in our players. They knew RIT was going to come out extremely hard, and they did just that. Our power play all night was obviously a huge momentum thing for us, especially with some of the major penalties that we got, so to extend the lead there was big for us."

View the highlights from Saturday's game below:

You can also see Gopher coach Brad Frost's and defenseman Rachel Ramsey's postgame comments below:

The Gophers will now have a very familiar foe in Friday's semifinals.  The Gophers will play #4 seed Wisconsin who defeated Boston University in the quarterfinals.  It will be the fifth game for the Gophers and Badgers this season, and the Gophers have a 3-0-1 edge.  In fact, the Gophers have not lost to Wisconsin in 15 consecutive games, including last years NCAA Semifinal, a 5-3 Gopher victory.  It will be another classic I'm sure.  The other semifinal pits #2 seed Boston College who defeated defending national champion Clarkson, and #3 seed Harvard who dispatched #6 Quinnipiac.

The Gophers and Badgers will play at 5 on Friday, while BC and Harvard will follow at 8.  The two winners will play at 4 on Sunday in an East vs West battle for the national championship. The 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award will also be handed out this Saturday morning.  The three finalists for the award are the Gophers' Brandt, BC forward Alex Carpenter, and Boston University's Maire Phillip-Poulin.  Carpenter is the favorite to win the award as she leads the nation in almost every offensive category, however Brandt is hot on her heels at second in the nation in just about everything.  We will have a full preview of both the Patty Kaz award ceremony, and the NCAA semifinals later this week on The Daily Gopher.