The Minnesota Golden Gophers are back in collegiate women’s hockey’s biggest stage for the first time since 2017. Minnesota is in the national semifinals and will take on the Cornell Big Red at 3PM on Friday for a spot in the NCAA Championship game on Sunday afternoon. For the Gophers its an opportunity to have a chance to win their eighth national championship. For Cornell its a chance to take down one of the big guns in the women’s hockey world and to get back to the NCAA Championships game for the first time since 2010 and try and win their first.
The Gophers advanced to the Frozen Four with a 5-2 win over Princeton last Saturday at Ridder Arena. The Tigers put some major pressure on the Gophers but it was the Pots and Pan line of Sarah and Amy Potomak and Kelly Pannek who showed up when the Gophers needed them. That line would combine for four of the five Minnesota goals including Pannek’s game winner with just under nine minutes left in the third period. Big players come up big in big games, and that was definitely the case last Saturday.
While the Gophers want the Pots and Pans line to equal their success, they will need their first line of Nicole Schammel, Grace Zumwinkle and Taylor Wente to produce. Schammel led Minnesota in points, and Zumwinkle in goals but that line was shut down for a majority of the game on Saturday. Schammel would score the final empty net goal, but the game was all but decided at that point. Princeton made a decision via matchups to shut down the Gophers top line which allowed the Pots and Pan’s line to shine, and Cornell may need to make the same decision Friday. Minnesota once again will roll four lines—all of whom can score. The Gophers third line of Taylor Williamson, Taylor Heise and Alex Woken would be a top two line for most other schools. Minnesota’s fourth line nearly scored twice last weekend as well as the all-freshman trio of Emily Oden, Catie Skakja and Abigail Boreen rang the post a pair of times. The Gophers also will roll three defensive pairs with Sarah Skarzynski and Patti Marshall on the top unit, Emily Brown and Olivia Knowles on the second and Crystalyn Hengler and Gracie Ostertag the third. The top two units have more experience and are more battle tested, and would expect to see significantly more shifts.
In goal one may expect to see junior Sidney Scobee get the call again. Scobee and sophomore Alex Gulstene have platooned most of the season and Scobee got the call in the one-game quarterfinal last weekend. She was not amazingly sharp, but was sharp enough to allow the Gophers to advance. Will Brad Frost try and ride Scobee the rest of the way, or does he trust both of his goalies enough to give Gulstene the net on Friday and hope Scobee gets a chance on Sunday?
Cornell will have one distinct advantage on Friday. Minnesota’s depth is negated a bit in the Frozen Four. With full TV timeouts it allows teams with less depth to use their top two lines more—which can even the field for a team like Cornell. The Big Red have one high scoring line and an All-American defenseman who can do it all. But their depth drops off quickly. It’s those mismatches that Minnesota will look to exploit.
Cornell won the ECAC regular season championship and then lost in the ECAC championship game to Clarkson 4-1. The Big Red would get to the Frozen Four by upsetting #3 seed Northeastern 3-2 in overtime in their NCAA Quarterfinal. The Big Red took a 2-0 lead on a pair of first period goals, but Northeastern clawed back to tie the game with just under five minutes left in regulation. Cornell took advantage of a Northeastern turnover in overtime and freshman Gillis Frechette broke in on a breakaway and scored to give the Big Red a 3-2 win.
Cornell’s top line is potent. Maddie Mills leads the team in scoring with 39 points on the season. Linemate Kristin O’Neil leads the team in goals with 22. But the team in anchored by 2nd Team All-American defenseman Jamie Bourbonnias. She was already named the ECAC’s best defender and is third in the nation amongst defensemen in points per game with an average of .94. She is also fourth in the nation in both assists per game .65 and goals per game .32.
Cornell has three other players with over 20 points on the season and a slew in the teens. They average 3.26 goals per game, good enough for 8th in the nation. But their defense is where they shine. They give up just 1.68 goals per game, which ranks them 2nd in the country. A lot of that is because of senior goalie Marlene Boissonnault. She ranks fifth in the nation with a 1.66 goals against average, but is just 26th in save percentage at .916. She has only made 511 saves all season in 29 games. The Big Red defense has been stifling in front of her allowing just an average of 21.6 shots per game.
That’s where Minnesota’s offensive prowess will need to come through. The nation’s leading offense at 4.27 goals per game will need to avoid getting shots blocked and get them through to the net to test Boissonnault. Minnesota has been good at that all season and are second in the nation with a shooting percentage of .115. Their 37.24 shots on goal per game rank them second in the nation, and with enough shots hope some will turn into goals.
The teams match up relatively evenly on special teams as well. Minnesota has the second best power play in the country at 25.3% success, while Cornell has the 4th best penalty kill at 88%. The Big Red has the 8th best power play at 19.7%, while the Gophers have the 11th best PK at 85.9%. But Cornell has been elite in the second half of the season allowing just four power play goals in their last 65 kills.
For what it is worth the Gophers do hold the series history intangibles. Minnesota is 4-0 all time against Cornell. Their most recent game also was in the Frozen Four semifinals back in 2012 where the Gophers won 3-1 en route to their first of four NCAA Championships in the decade.
If Minnesota can get off to a quick start and put plenty of shots on Boissonnault and crash for some rebounds it should be a good afternoon for Minnesota. They are 21-0 this season when leading after one period and 25-0 when leading after two. Do what you need to do and Minnesota’s talent should hopefully shine through and get them back into the NCAA Championship game for the first time in two seasons on Sunday.
The second national semifinal will pit the #1 seed Wisconsin against the #4 seed Clarkson Green Knights. Combined with Minnesota these three teams have won every single NCAA Championship dating back to 2010 when UMD won. Clarkson is the two-time defending champ and is looking to be the first team to win three in a row since UMD did in the first three NCAA Championships from 2001-2003.
The Badgers have been ranked #1 or #2 all season long and seem to think this is their best chance at their first NCAA Championship since 2011. Their game will face-off at approximately 6PM after the Minnesota/Cornell game.
HOW TO WATCH:
Women’s NCAA Frozen Four Semifinal
Cornell Big Red vs #2 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: People’s United Center, Hamden, Connecticut
When: 3PM Friday