Gophers snag WCHA title

Minnesota swept its in-state rivals at Duluth this weekend, winning the conference trophy.

Senior captains Rachael Bona and Rachel Ramsey hold the WCHA trophy after defeating the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 2-0 on Saturday evening at Ridder Arena.

James Healy

Senior captains Rachael Bona and Rachel Ramsey hold the WCHA trophy after defeating the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 2-0 on Saturday evening at Ridder Arena.

Grant Donald

As the Gophers left the ice for the second intermission Saturday, head coach Brad Frost planned a quick detour to the coaches’ room to check on a game happening more than 600 miles away.

Much to his liking, Frost found Ohio State had completed the upset of No. 3 Wisconsin, opening the door for No. 2 Minnesota to clinch the WCHA title if it could break the scoreless tie against No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth in the third period.

“From what I was seeing on the ice, I was more excited to see [the Wisconsin] score than what we were doing at that point,” Frost said. “I said, ‘If you were told all you had to do was win one period to be conference champs, would you do it?’”

That was all the motivation the Gophers needed as they responded with two goals in the third, paving their way to a 2-0 victory and their third consecutive WCHA regular-season title.

The victory wrapped up a memorable senior weekend, one that started with the team’s senior banquet Thursday night and included a 7-1 beat-down of the Bulldogs on Friday night.

“It’s pretty special,” senior captain Rachael Bona said. “We have [won] it every single year, but it is hard, so it makes it that much better at the end when you get to hold the trophy.”

Women’s WCHA commissioner Aaron Kemp presented Bona and fellow senior captain Rachel Ramsey the trophy in front of 2,730 attendees after the game.

After, fellow seniors Meghan Lorence and Shyler Sletta mobbed Ramsey and Bona, celebrating their latest feat in what has been a historic four years as Gophers.

“It’s crazy to wrap your head around,” Ramsey said. “I think … 92 percent of our games we’ve won. It doesn’t feel like that, maybe because the losses stand out in your head.”

Even though it was senior weekend, a pair of sophomores led Minnesota on Saturday.

Just past two minutes into the third period, forward Dani Cameranesi sneaked the puck through Minnesota-Duluth’s goalie Kayla Black’s five-hole to give Minnesota the 1-0 lead. Defenseman Lee Stecklein added an empty-net goal near the end of the game to seal the deal.

“I thought in the third period, we came out with a little extra jump and fire,” Frost said. “We were able to get the lead and just lock it down the rest of the way.”

However, for the 40-plus minutes that the game was scoreless, Minnesota relied on junior goaltender Amanda Leveille to keep the game level.

The Canadian responded with 17 saves over two periods and maintained the shutout with two saves in the third.

“Our team is fantastic when we get up,” Leveille said. “They just shut it down. If you don’t give the other team any opportunities to score, then they just can’t do anything.”

Leveille received a little more goal support Friday as the Gophers tallied seven goals.

Friday’s victory also marked Frost’s 250th win with the Gophers, a remarkable feat considering he has only been at the helm for eight years.

“It’s a great honor,” Frost said. “But 251 felt better than 250 quite honestly.”