The Gophers have absolutely dominated the WCHA Final Face-Off in recent history, bringing home the trophy each of the last three years.
But as the team prepares to battle for a fourth-consecutive title, it will have to get through one of the toughest fields to date.
“With four top-10 teams playing [for the title] this weekend, it definitely won’t be easy,” head coach Brad Frost said. “Us and Wisconsin have pretty much ensured that we will [make the NCAA tournament], but North Dakota and Bemidji [State] are still playing for theirs, so it should be a fun weekend.”
After breezing by Minnesota State-Mankato last weekend, the No. 2 Gophers face No. 10 Bemidji State in the semifinals Saturday afternoon.
Bemidji State is in the midst of its best season in program history, winning 20 games, including a WCHA First Round upset of then-No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth last weekend.
The Beavers have given Minnesota its fair share of troubles this year, beating the Gophers in regulation and tying and winning in a shootout in early November.
“My freshman year, [Bemidji State] was the worst team in the league, and we were beating them 10-0,” junior Hannah Brandt said. “It’s crazy that now it’s one of the hardest games of the year. It’s cool to see.”
Other than playing each other four times this year, these two Minnesota programs have a lot of familiarity.
Bemidji State captain Stephanie Anderson started her collegiate career as a member of the Gophers but transferred to the Beavers after her rookie campaign. The redshirt junior has recorded 23 points this year, which is good enough for second on the team.
“Playing against her, she is a big, fast, strong kid. She was just named to U.S. national team, which is a big deal, and we are happy for her,” Frost said. “There [were] a lot of real tough times when she left, and she just needed a change in scenery. … I’m glad to see it has worked out for her.”
Anderson, a forward, will try to outskate former teammate Rachel Ramsey as she attempts to extend Bemidji’s already historic season.
But Ramsey is prepared to do anything necessary to make sure she never loses a WCHA Final Face-Off in her career.
“Fingers crossed because we aren’t there yet,” Ramsey said. “But [winning titles] is something that is very special, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Brandt wins WCHA Player of the Year
When her career is all said and done, Brandt might go down as one of the greatest women’s hockey players in Gophers history.
For now, the junior will humbly accept her second-consecutive WCHA Player of the Year award, which the conference awarded the Minnesota star Wednesday afternoon.
“It just shows what type of team we have this year with all the awards we have earned,” Brandt said. “It’s not just me. I’m sure there are other people who have received awards. It’s still an honor, though.”
Brandt has been the driving force of the nation’s second-best offense all season. The junior also ranks second in the nation and first in the WCHA for points, racking up 67 points thus far.
The former Hill-Murray star is only improving her game. Brandt has already surpassed her totals from last year in goals and points and is rapidly approaching her assist numbers from her sophomore campaign with potentially three weekends remaining in the season.
“There’s a lot of pressure on Hannah each and every year, but her game has continued to develop and progress,” Frost said. “I think she was a slam dunk [for the award] this year.”