Gophers defeat Cornell, advance to national championship

The No. 2 Gophers will play top-ranked Wisconsin on Sunday for all the marbles.

Minnesota center Jen Schoullis controls the puck against Minnesota-Duluth in Saturday's WCHA championship game at AMSOIL Arena.

Rachel Kraft

Minnesota center Jen Schoullis controls the puck against Minnesota-Duluth in Saturday's WCHA championship game at AMSOIL Arena.

Samuel Gordon

DULUTH, Minn. — Wisconsin and Minnesota have been atop the national rankings all season. They’ll finish atop the national rankings, too, but in what order?

That will be answered Sunday.

Minnesota beat Cornell 3-1 in the national semifinal Friday and clinched a spot in Sunday’s national championship game opposite Wisconsin, which disposed of Boston College 6-2.

“It’s been a goal of this team to get here,” head coach Brad Frost said. “They put themselves in a position to compete for a championship and there’s not much more you can ask for as a coach.”

It was evident from the get-go that the Gophers came to play. Minnesota exploded out of the gates and put 21 shots on net in the first period alone, including 15 in the game’s first 10 minutes.

Frost said he hadn’t seen his team begin a game this year with as much energy as it did Friday.

The Gophers controlled the puck in the Big Red’s zone for seemingly the entire period, but Cornell goalie Amanda Mazzotta was on top of her game.

She turned away shot after shot in the game’s early goings, but Minnesota took advantage of a pair of Big Red penalties to break through late in the frame.

Amanda Kessel scored a power-play goal to put the Gophers ahead 1-0. She took a pass from Sarah Erickson and gracefully skated through traffic before putting a sensational move on Mazzotta and tickling the twine at 17:16.

“I saw the goalie way out. I knew what I wanted to do,” Kessel said. “I just took it far side and empty net there.”

Seventy-three seconds later, Minnesota defenseman Megan Bozek laced a slapshot past Mazzotta and doubled the Gophers’ lead.

Cornell flipped the on-switch in the second period and made things interesting. The Big Red turned Minnesota’s turnovers into viable scoring opportunities, and Alyssa Gagliardi finally cashed in with a power play goal 11:40 into the frame.

The 2-1 score stood through the second intermission, and though the Gophers were faced with a pressure-packed third period, they stayed composed, Bozek said.

“I think we did a really good job of staying positive,” she said. “We always enforce that if we get down on ourselves, it’s not going to be a good thing — on and off the ice.”

Bozek and Minnesota’s defense limited Cornell to just three shots in the final 20 minutes. The Gophers controlled the puck and the game, and they played nearly mistake-free down the stretch.

Cornell pulled its goalie with less than a minute to play, and Emily West’s empty net goal ensured a berth in the national championship.

“Words can’t express how proud I am,” Frost said. “This is a very special group.”

Gophers goalie Noora Räty saved 21 shots and held the nation’s highest-scoring offense to just one goal.

“We face good offense every weekend in our league,” she said. “I trust my [defense]. I know that they got my back and I got their back.”

Minnesota will look to regroup before Sunday’s title game. The Gophers are 2-1-1 against Wisconsin this season.

“Playing Wisconsin is always a battle. Its a healthy rivalry,” Bozek said. “We knew that there would be a high potential that we would see them in the finals and that’s right where we want to be.”