The Minnesota Golden Gophers played a tight defensive game against Cornell in the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four Semifinal Friday afternoon and were rewarded with a 2-0 victory. Minnesota will now play Sunday afternoon for their 8th National Championship against their arch rival and #1 seed Wisconsin.
The Gophers and the Big Red played a tight first period. Minnesota came out with some jump and got a few nice looks in close to the Cornell net but Big Red goalie Marlene Boissonnault was up to the challenge and turned them all away. The Gophers appeared like they might take the lead midway through the period when Sarah Potomak got a breakaway in on Boissonnault, but after beating the goalie her shot hit the left pipe and bounced perfectly under Boissonnault to be frozen. Not more than 45 seconds later the Gophers hit another post as Gracie Ostertag’s rocket from the point hit the left post and bounced away harmlessly. Cornell’s top line of Kristin O’Neil, Maddie Mills and Amy Curlew turned it on late in the first period and put a flurry of shots on Gopher goaltender Alex Gulstene. Cornell got the first power play of the game late in the first period and peppered the Gopher defense with shots but several were blocked. Gulstene was also up to the charge as she stopped all she faced and the teams headed to the locker room knotted at zero. Both teams had eight shots on goal in the first period.
The early part of the second period was a bit of feeling out as neither team really jumped out early. Minnesota went on the power play approximately two and a half minutes into the period and only recorded one shot on goal as the Cornell defense blocked several Minnesota shot attempts. The Gophers would go on the power play once again with 9:18 left in the second and this time they would strike. Olivia Knowles ripped a shot from the point on the power play that hit bodies in front of the Cornell net. The puck came right to Nicole Schammel who had a wide open half of a net and wasted no time putting it past Boissonnault to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead. Emily Oden picked up the second assist on the goal.
Both teams would have chances in the rest of the second but once again both goaltenders were up to the task and the second period ended with a 1-0 Gophers lead. Minnesota outshot the Big Red 12-3 in the second period.
The third period started with a bit more effort from Cornell. The first line had several good looks at the Minnesota net, especially by O’Neil, but Gulstene made all the saves she needed too and MInnesota was right in front of the net to wish any potential rebounds to safety. Cornell would get one last power play opportunity with 4:24 left in the game but the Gophers expertly killed it off. The Big Red would finally get Boissonnault off the ice for the extra attacker with just under a minute but it would be all for naut as Sarah Potomak took the puck away from a Cornell player just inside the Gopher blue line and whipped a shot 150 feet down the ice into the empty net to make it 2-0 Gophers with 33 seconds left in the game.
Thirty-three seconds later and the Gophers would jump off their bench and go mob Gulstene who would record a 15-save shutout in her NCAA Tournament debut. While Gulstene was good, it was the Gopher defense that made the biggest difference in the game. The Gophers blocked thirty....30! Big Red shots in the victory. Minnesota never really let the Big Red have any clear looks at the net and swept away any garbage in front quickly to not allow any rebound potential.
The Gophers will face a very familiar foe in the championship game. It will be Gophers vs Badgers round six this season as Wisconsin got off to a slow start before exploding in the third to defeat two-time defending NCAA Champion Clarkson 5-0. Wisconsin holds a 3-2 season edge so far this year and will be the home team on Sunday which will get the the key final line change. But it should not matter too much as each team has at least one win as the road team this season.
The obvious two best teams in the country will face off Sunday for the National Championship and it will be a dogfight. There is losing the title game...and then there is losing the title game to your arch rival. Both teams have done it in the past. Minnesota defeated Wisconsin in the 2012 title game 4-2 and Wisconsin did the same to Minnesota 3-0 in 2006. Who will take the rubber match and win the 2019 title? We shall see Sunday.