Gophers head to Connecticut in pursuit of eighth national title

Minnesota faces Cornell on Saturday in the first Frozen Four semifinal.

Redshirt senior Kelly Pannek skates toward the puck on Friday, Jan. 18 at Ridder Arena. The Gophers lost to the Wisconsin Badgers 2-1.

Elle Moulin

Redshirt senior Kelly Pannek skates toward the puck on Friday, Jan. 18 at Ridder Arena. The Gophers lost to the Wisconsin Badgers 2-1.

by Erik Nelson

After missing the tournament in 2018, the Gophers are heading to the Frozen Four with an opportunity to win the program’s eighth national championship and fifth in the last eight seasons.

No. 2 Minnesota (31-5-1) will battle Cornell (24-5-6) in the first semifinal of the Frozen Four on Friday at People’s United Center in Hamden, Connecticut. The opening faceoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.

The Gophers are 4-0-0 all time against Cornell dating back to November 1997, but the two teams haven’t played each other since the 2012 NCAA Frozen Four semifinal. Minnesota won that game 3-1 and went on to win the national championship.

Head coach Brad Frost said the Gophers match up well against the Big Red. 

“They’re a lot like Princeton,” Frost said. “They’re fast, they have a good first line. They’re deeper at defense with two Canadian national team defensemen on their roster, but they play like us. They get up and down the rink, it should be another up-and-down game.”

Minnesota is 3-0-0 this season against Ivy League opponents. The Gophers swept Yale in early December in addition to their victory over Princeton on Saturday.

Minnesota’s “Pots and Pan” line of center Kelly Pannek, left winger Sarah Potomak and right winger Amy Potomak has scored half of Minnesota’s goals this postseason. Pannek and Sarah Potomak have each scored twice, while Amy Potomak scored once against Princeton on Sunday.

Pannek said her line likes to have the puck and make plays.

“Lately, we’ve been accepting that it’s not always going to be the prettiest play, and sometimes that opens up pretty play that you want to make,” Pannek said. “It’s having a balance and trust in each other, [and] acknowledging that it hasn’t always been the easiest for us this year. At the end of the day, we want to succeed so that our team can succeed as well.”

Fourteen Gophers will be making their first appearances in the Frozen Four, including goaltender Sydney Scobee, who transferred to Minnesota from Vermont after the 2017-18 season. Eleven players have played in two Frozen Fours and one, Pannek, has played in three.

Frost said he wants Minnesota’s Frozen Four newcomers to savor this weekend.

“It’s a great experience,” he said. “It’s never guaranteed, and we want our players to make sure that they enjoy every moment. The hockey games are the hockey games and only one team’s going to win at the end. Hopefully, that’s us, but there’s a chance that it may not be. It doesn’t mean it’s a failure of a season or a failure of a Frozen Four. We want to enjoy it, take every moment in and play our best hockey when we can.”

Minnesota will play at 3 p.m. on Friday, and Clarkson and Wisconsin will play at 6 p.m. on Friday. The Gophers and Clarkson have won the past eight NCAA championships. The winner of each game will play in the NCAA championship game on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

Sarah Potomak said the Gophers must play strong defensively to have a chance at winning against the Big Red and advancing to the national championship game.

“Our depth on offense will take over when we need it to. But if we play defense well, we’ll be successful if we stick together,” she said.