Tournament is hard lesson for women’s hockey

by Tim Nichols

Remember when you were 8 years old and you were forced to eat your brussels sprouts? It’s likely your parents’ justification was, “Because they’re good for you.”
That is what the Gophers women’s hockey team’s final four experience was like: It tasted bitter and nasty, but it was good for them and will likely make them stronger.
The Gophers were pummelled in the semifinal game by eventual national champion New Hampshire, 4-1. In the game, Minnesota was outshot 37-12.
The lone goal for the Gophers came off the stick of Ambria Thomas at the 1:39 mark of the third period.
The Gophers played New Hampshire tight in their previous two meetings, but the third go-round was a little different. New Hampshire knows what it is like to play in the postseason pressure cooker, while the Gophers have never been in that position.
“I think UNH played very well,” forward Kris Scholz said. “I think they were ready for us this time, too. They are a great team and they have been in that position before and that definitely helped them, where we don’t have any experience on our side in big games like that.”
The difference in schedule strength might have also made a difference in the outcome of the championship.
“They improved a lot since the last time we played them. They were playing more highly competitive games,” defender Tai Thorsheim said.
New Hampshire plays in the very difficult East Coast Athletic Conference, where women’s hockey is an established sport.
New Hampshire also lost to Brown in the finals of the ECAC tournament, so it knows what it is like to be bounced from a tournament and to come back from a loss.
“I think they wanted revenge, because they thought they were going to win (the ECAC tournament). But Brown just wanted it more,” Thorsheim said.
Minnesota played a similar game against Northeastern in the consolation round. The teams tied twice in an earlier series at Mariucci Arena, but the result was much different this time around.
Minnesota was outshot 34-17 en route to a 4-0 loss, the first shutout loss in school history.
Painful? Yes. Tough to swallow? No doubt. But bear in mind this is the Gophers’ first year in existence as a varsity team.
A final four appearance is quite an achievement for a first-year program. The Gophers ended their inaugural season with a record of 21-7-3.
The Gophers also finished with a dominating first line of Ambria Thomas, Nadine Muzerall and Scholz that combined for 164 points on the year. The Gophers have the youth and talent to make a serious run at the national title again, especially with Jennifer Schmidgall, a member of the goal-medal winning U.S. Olympic team, joining them next season.
“I played the year before with Schmidgy, and she is a really hard-working person,” Scholz said. “I think that will bring a lot to the team, just with her work ethic and her talent. She’s amazing.”
With Minnesota only losing one player next year, and having an overwhelming majority of freshmen, the future is bright. Perhaps when the Gophers reach the postseason again, they will taste sweet dessert.
Two All-American Gophers
Muzerall and Brittny Ralph were named second team All-America University Division by the Women’s Hockey News.
Muzerall finished the season with 32 goals and 32 assists and was named a semifinalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award.
Ralph was the Gophers’ strongest defender on the year. Her wicked shot hit the back of the net 15 times, four of them on the power play.