Four goals fuel Gophers to Frozen Four

Minnesota will attempt to win its third-straight NCAA title this weekend.

by Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team isn’t quite ready to relinquish its throne yet.

The fourth-ranked Gophers are still alive with hopes of winning their third-straight national championship after defeating Princeton 4-0 in the NCAA quarterfinals Friday night at Ridder Arena.

Despite the final score, Minnesota had to work hard to make it back to the Frozen Four.

“(Friday’s) game was interesting,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “It wasn’t our best game. The second period in particular was a tough one for us, but we were able to get a goal and gain some momentum. We got the job done.”

The sixth-ranked Tigers held serve with the Gophers in the first period, with both teams getting off 11 shots in a scoreless first period of play.

But when Minnesota got on the board, the Gophers didn’t look back.

With the teams still battling late into the second stanza, freshman Melanie Gagnon – who had just one goal during the regular season – became the game’s unlikely hero when her even-strength goal at the 18:27 mark put Minnesota out in front.

Gagnon said her goal gave the Gophers the momentum to grasp the game in their favor.

“It was a confidence builder, Gagnon said. “It wasn’t a secret that we were struggling in the second period. As soon as it went in, everyone realized we belonged to be there (in the Frozen Four) and we weren’t going to let them take it from us in our own house. It gave us a confidence boost and it showed.”

Halldorson agreed.

“We felt a lot better after Mel (Melanie Gagnon) put it in,” she said. “I thought Princeton was all over us. But as soon as you see No. 3 winding up you assume something good is going to happen.”

After a Minnesota penalty put Princeton on the power play to open the final period of action, the Gophers surprised everyone.

Undermanned, sophomore Whitney Graft scored a shorthanded goal just 10 seconds into the period, changing the atmosphere to start the final period of play.

“Whit (Whitney Graft) had a huge shorthanded goal to start the third period and then we started rolling,” Halldorson said.

From then on, the Gophers were in full control.

“Minnesota really started to take it to us and we started to spend more time in our defensive zone; it really shifted the momentum of the game,” Princeton senior defenseman Chrissie Norwich said of Graft’s goal.

Senior defender Ashley Albrecht added a power play goal midway through the third to spread the Gophers lead to three.

Becky Wacker added an insurance goal at the 13:02 mark to put the game on ice.

But if it wasn’t for freshman goalie Brittony Chartier, the Gophers might not be making their fifth-consecutive Frozen Four appearance.

The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native made her first postseason start of her young career and didn’t disappoint.

Chartier stopped all 33 Princeton shots on goal – including eight on the Princeton power play – on the way to her 14th win of the season.

Chartier’s seventh shutout of her young career was indeed a historic one. It was the first shutout in NCAA tournament history.

“I didn’t know that,” Chartier said. “It’s neat, but it’s a team accomplishment. There were a lot of things that allowed that to happen (Friday).”

Halldorson said this is an exciting time for the program with the Frozen Four being held at Mariucci Arena and with the Gophers as one of the four teams that will be competing.

“It’s exciting to beat a good team like Princeton and earn a spot in the Frozen Four,” she said. “We’re excited to make the field next weekend and be playing here on our own campus.”