The University of Minnesota Women's Hockey team used some great goaltender play by Amanda Leveille, and a great game by star Hannah Brandt to overcome a 1-0 defect and beat Wisconsin 3-1. The win is the 16th straight game against the badgers where Minnesota has either won or tied. The Gophers will advance to Sunday's National Championship Game where they will play Harvard who upset Boston College 2-1.
The Gophers got off to a bit of a slow start. Wisconsin's second line of Annie Pankowski, Emily Clark and Baylee Wellhausen dominated the Gophers second line of Rachael Bona, Kelly Pannek, and Meghan Lorence all period long. The Gophers were bailed out by Leveille several times in the first. Leveille would make twelve of her 34 saves in the first, and would keep the game scoreless after one period.
The Badgers would strike first only 52 seconds into the second period. Once again the Badgers second line got matched up against Minnesota's second line and took advantage. Pankowski found the puck all alone in front of Leveille and ripped a shot past her to put Wisconsin up. The Badgers continued to press, but Leveille and the Gopher defense stood their ground. The turning point for Minnesota seemed to be when Brad Frost identified the mismatch against his team and started to put the Gophers first line of Hannah Brandt, Dani Cameranesi and Maryanne Menefee out against the Badger's second line. The Gophers would control the Badgers trio of talented freshmen for the rest of the game, and not let them get any more shots past Leveille.
That first line for Minnesota would take over on the offensive end as well. The Gophers would knot the score at one with 8:53 gone in the second when Hannah Brandt would score her 33rd goal of the season. She banged in front of the Badger net and found a rebound pop out right on her stick. She pot the puck past badger goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens, and got the large Minnesota crowd back in the game.
Minnesota took control of the game even further 1:59 later when Menefee tipped a blast from Megan Wolfe from the point past Desbiens. The referees took a look at the goal, but declared it to be good, and Minnesota had a 2-1 lead and control of the crowd.
The Badgers would not roll over however. With the score still 2-1, Pankowski had another chance at a wide open net, but Leveille made one of the best saves you can ever see a goalie make going from one side of her crease to the other and corralled the puck with her catching glove to preserve the 2-1 lead. Frost thought this moment stood out to him as a huge momentum shift for the Gophers. "I think the biggest save Amanda made was when we were up 2-1 and there was that rebound sitting there for what felt like forever. Somehow she slid across to make that glove save and we were able to score shortly after that to go up 3-1. It could have been 2-2, but we got the momentum instead. "
Of course, Frost was then describing what could be easily argued the back-breaking moment for Wisconsin. Katy Josephs was whistled for roughing, and Minnesota went on the power-play with seven minutes left in the second period. Wisconsin had the #1 penalty kill unit in the country this season, having given up only four power-play goals all season. The last power-play goal Wisconsin had given up came on Valentines Day in a 4-3 loss to Ohio State...the same day Minnesota clinched the regular season WCHA Championship. Of course, the Gophers are no slouch on the power-play, having the #1 unit in the nation at 31.3% coming into the game. The Gophers had accounted for two of Wisconsin's other three power play goals given up this season. Then it happened. Brandt ripped a hard shot from the front of the net, and Desbiens made the first save, but Pannek was right on the doorstep to put the rebound into the net and put Minnesota up 3-1.
Frost was very clear postgame that he thought that was a huge game-changer for Minnesota. "I mean, when's the last time Wisconsin even game up a power play goal? That was obviously huge for us and was kind of a back-breaker for them. we take a lot of pride in our power plays and I told the team that if we get a power play goal against Wisconsin, I think we can win, and we were able to do that."
The Gophers and Badgers would both have chances in the third period, but nothing would materialize, and Minnesota would get to celebrate and play another day, while the badgers season would end. Frost once again was giving all the praise to his goaltender Leveille. "She was unbelievable, The first ten minutes we were really on our heels--but I knew it was going to be a good day for her because it easily could have been two or three to nothing in those first ten minutes. I was just telling her that I think that was the best game I've ever seen her play, and she's played a lot of great games so that's saying something."
You can see Brad Frost's postgame thoughts below:
The Gophers will advance to play in their fourth consecutive NCAA Championship game. They won titles in 2012 and 2013 before dropping the 2014 title game to Clarkson. But the Gophers are on their home ice, and that will play a huge advantage against Harvard. Also being the #1 seed, Frost will have last change to be able to match up whomever he wants with his opponents players. As we saw tonight, that can be huge sometimes. They will have a tough task besting Crimson goalie Emerance Maschmeyer who had 42 saves in Harvard's win over Boston College.
The Gophers will play Haravrd at 3:00 Sunday. Tickets are sold out, but once again a live stream will be available on NCAA.com. Good luck to the Gophers in their quest to claim a third title in four seasons!