Gophers’ title chase ends in semifinal loss

Loss to Minnesota-Duluth dashes championship dreams.

Gophers junior forward Emily West fights for the puck Friday at the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament against Duluth. The Gophers ended their season with a 3-2 loss against the Bulldogs.

Marija Majerle

Gophers junior forward Emily West fights for the puck Friday at the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament against Duluth. The Gophers ended their season with a 3-2 loss against the Bulldogs.

John Hageman

All too often seasons are ended abruptly in mid-March, as was the case Friday for the Gophers womenâÄôs hockey team. No. 3 Minnesota saw its season come to a close with a 3-2 loss to No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA semifinals at Ridder Arena. The game played out similarly to the teamsâÄô previous meeting, a 3-2 Bulldogs victory in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship game March 7, with Minnesota-Duluth (30-8-2) jumping out to a 2-0 lead in both. The first goal came when Bulldogs forward Laura Fridfinnson wrapped around the net and had her shot initially denied by Gophers freshman goalie Noora Räty . But the puck slid under Räty and just past the goal line only 5:55 into the game. Minnesota (26-9-5) outplayed its rival for much of the first period. The Gophers didnâÄôt tally a penalty in the first 20 minutes, while Minnesota-Duluth was called for too many players on the ice twice. Although the Gophers outshot their opponent 13-7 in the first period, they couldnâÄôt find the back of the net. âÄúI think everyone thought we had the jump on them throughout that whole period,âÄù junior forward Emily West said. âÄúItâÄôs tough going in, but you have to realize that there are two more periods to play and try and gather yourself and do everything you can to get back in it.âÄù The second period was a different story, though. The Gophers took four penalties and couldnâÄôt get their offense set up. âÄúItâÄôs just a momentum thing,âÄù head coach Brad Frost said. âÄú[The Bulldogs] naturally got some shots âĦ but I thought we did a nice job killing [penalties]. In the first period we were all over them; we were moving our feet and doing a lot of great things. Then they started moving their feet a little more, and I guess we started âĦ doing the things that put us in the box.âÄù Meanwhile, the Bulldogs cleaned up their first-period mistakes and didnâÄôt visit the penalty box in the second period. Emmanuelle Blais put Minnesota-Duluth up 2-0 at 12:55 in the second. âÄúI think obviously it was good for us,âÄù Blais said. âÄúI think it helped us a lot and maybe break their confidence a little bit.âÄù The Gophers finally got on the board when sophomore Sarah Erickson caught a pass from West in the neutral zone, rushed the net and knocked the puck past Minnesota-Duluth goalie Jennifer Harss at 17:30 in the second period. But Blais answered with her second goal less than two minutes later to restore the BulldogsâÄô two-goal lead. âÄúThe first minute after every goal is huge for us,âÄù Erickson said. âÄúWe didnâÄôt capitalize after we got that first goal, and they did.âÄù After a back-and-forth third period, the Gophers sought to mount a late-game comeback and pulled Räty with a little over one minute to play. West managed to knock the puck out of the air in a crowd and past Harss to make it 3-2 with just less than 55 seconds remaining. âÄú[Our plan was to] just empty the tank,âÄù West said. âÄúWe knew that thereâÄôs 50 seconds that could possibly be left in our season.âÄù It proved to be too little too late for the Gophers, who lost in the national semifinals for the second-straight year. The Bulldogs advanced to SundayâÄôs championship game at Ridder Arena against Cornell, which upset top-ranked Mercyhurst in overtime Friday. The Gophers defeated Minnesota-Duluth in the teamsâÄô first two meetings this season, but they lost their fourth straight to the Bulldogs on Friday. âÄúI think weâÄôre a team with a lot of heart, and thatâÄôs why itâÄôs so hard to swallow right now,âÄù West said. âÄúBecause you look at those six games, and they got some bounces, I would say, and sometimes we couldnâÄôt buy a bounce âĦ It is what it is.âÄù With a roster full of returning talent, including five of the teamâÄôs top six scorers, Frost said next yearâÄôs Gophers will be hungry for another chance at a national title. âÄúItâÄôs tough,âÄù Frost said. âÄúI felt like we played hard right until the final horn. I donâÄôt think there were too many people that felt we would be in this position at the Frozen Four âĦ so itâÄôs been a great journey, and [IâÄôm] sad to see it come to an end tonight. But I think our players can hold their heads high and be proud of their effort.âÄù