The Minnesota Women's Hockey team will play for a chance to win their fourth NCAA title overall, and their third in four years against Harvard on Sunday, It will be a rematch of both the 2004 and 2005 NCAA Championship games, both of which were won by Minnesota.
The Gophers advanced to the championship game by defeating #4 Wisconsin 3-1. Harvard upset #2 Boston College 2-1 to advance. It will be the 19th meeting all-time between the Gophers and the Crimson. Minnesota leads the overall series 12-5-1, and leads the NCAA Tournament match-ups 2-1.The two teams most recently met in November of 2011 when Minnesota swept a series in Cambridge.
Minnesota has not lost a home NCAA game at Ridder Arena since March of 2010 when the Gophers lost to UMD in the NCAA Semifinals, going 6-0 in that stretch. However, that was news to Gopher Coach Brad Frost, "I didn't know that stat, in regards to the five years. I think it's more about trying to be at our best and generate some chances to get the crowd into the game. We know that if we don't play our best here tomorrow the outcome isn't one we want. To have a crowd of 3,500 behind you, it's a pretty electrifying feeling."
The key for Minnesota will be trying to get to Harvard goalie Emmerance Maschmeyer early. Maschmeyer has been great of late, but had a few clunkers early in the season, including one game where she gave up five goals to Boston College in a 10-2 loss. If the Gophers can get an early goal or two and set the tone, they may be able to control their game and try and make Harvard who is much more defensive minded come from behind. However, if Harvard can get the first goal, or keep it scoreless a good ways into the game, then the Crimson may be able to neutralize the pro-Minnesota crowd and play a game they are much more suited for.
Harvard was able to keep BC stars Alex Carpenter and Hailey Skarupa off the scoresheet in their semifinal. They gave up 19 SOG combined to the two star Eagles, but they were held in check and not allowed to roam free. You can believe Crimson coach Katy Stone, who coached the US Olympic Team in Sochi in 2014 will have a very similar gameplan to try and shut down Gopher stars Hannah Brandt and Dani Cameranesi. In that case, the key to the Gophers may be the offensive play of their second line of Rachael Bona, Meghan Lorence, and Kelly Pannek. Pannek scored on Friday, but it was on the power-play and not with the rest of her linemates. The Gopher second line struggled to get anything going on Friday against a very tough Wisconsin team. Harvard will be no easier defensively. But, if the Gophers can get a goal or two from that second line, it should be enough to propel Minnesota back to the top.
Of course, the Gophers will have to play tough defense as well. They will rely on the shoulders of their two All-Americans in Rachel Ramsey and Lee Stecklein. Harvard will have quality defenders as well, anchored by 2014 Olympian Josephine Pucci. She returned to play for the Crimson at the semester break, and Harvard has only lost three games since. Whichever team executes their game plan better should win the title.
Either way, I think we are headed for another classic NCAA Championship game tomorrow. I think Minnesota uses their home ice advantage, and uses the crowd to propel them to the title. Brandt finds a way to get the trophy that she deserves, and Minnesota wins 5-2.
There will be a pep rally in the Mariucci Lobby at 12:30. Minnesota AD Norwood Teague and Gopher coach Brad Frost will speak, and the team, band and Goldy will all be in attendance!
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