Gophers escape 1st round of WCHA

No. 3 Minn. needed triple overtime to beat the Mavericks on Saturday.

John Hageman

It may have taken an extra half hour of hockey to decide its fate, but the No.3 Minnesota womenâÄôs hockey team will live to fight another day. After holding off Minnesota State-Mankato 8-5 Friday , the Gophers played the longest game in their history Saturday, winning 4-3 in triple overtime to advance to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Faceoff. The eight goals were a welcomed sight for the Gophers, a team that has been struggling to find ways to score lately. âÄúIt felt really good. The pucks were finally going in the net,âÄù freshman Becky Kortum said. âÄúItâÄôs a fun game to watch and a fun game to play when you score.âÄù In all, 13 different Gophers tallied a point Friday, including defenders Mira Jalosuo and Alexandra Zebro, who scored their first goals of the season . The game was much closer than the score suggests, with the Mavericks scoring four second-period goals to put the game at 5-5 going into the final 20 minutes. Freshman Noora Räty , who had just won the bronze medal with Team Finland the day before in Vancouver, was in net for the Gophers. The five goals were the most she has given up all year. But the Minnesota defense did not give the two-time Olympian and WCHA goaltending champio n much help in the defensive zone, giving up multiple odd-man rushes and scoring opportunities. âÄúI felt bad for her because I wouldnâÄôt consider any of those goals fault on her,âÄù Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said. âÄúI think itâÄôs just kind of unfair the way we hung her out to dry here tonight.âÄù The Gophers were able to tighten up the defense in the final period, however, and tacked on three more goals to solidify the win. SaturdayâÄôs game proved to be less decisive, with Minnesota State refusing to let its season end without a fight. The Mavericks got on the board early when Jenna Hewitt tapped the puck towards Räty on the side of the net, bouncing it off the inside of her left skate and in, putting the seventh-seeded Mavericks up 1-0 at 5:44 in the first. Freshman Megan Bozek and senior captain Brittany Francis put the Gophers up 2-1 with two power-play goals. But the Mavericks would not go away. Moira OâÄô Connor scored another goal to put the game at 2-2 in the second. The Gophers carried the lead going into the final period , with senior Kelli Blankenship bringing the puck up the ice, off the top of the crossbar and past Minnesota State goalie Alli Altmann. But OâÄô Connor would score the only goal of the third period to send the game into a 20-minute overtime session . Both teams were even in the shots-on-goal category with 28 going into the first overtime and each had seven shots in the extra period but no outcome to show for it. Perhaps MinnesotaâÄôs best opportunity came late in overtime when BlankenshipâÄôs shot ricocheted off of AltmannâÄôs stick and up in the air. Altmann lost sight of it until it bounced off her head and back before missing the goal by inches. After another 10-minute period of keeping the status quo, junior Emily West finally put the Mavericks away early in the third overtime with a shot from just past the left circle on AltmannâÄôs glove side. It was WestâÄôs Division I-leading ninth game-winner of the season. âÄúAt that point, not many of us had legs left,âÄù West said. âÄú[IâÄôm] pretty happy to have that one over with after three overtimes.âÄù With the win, the Gophers move on to face either Ohio State or St. Cloud State in the semifinal matchup of the WCHA Final Faceoff at Ridder Arena. Bemidji State and St. Cloud StateâÄôs series was the only one to go to a third game in the best-of-three series late Sunday. Minnesota-Duluth moved past North Dakota and Ohio State upended the defending NCAA National Champion No. 10 Wisconsin in overtime victories Friday and Saturday, respectively. While the Gophers may be a bit fatigued after an hour and a half of hockey, the overtime win may make them more battle-tested for the road ahead. âÄúIf anything, that just shows our character, and I think thatâÄôs going to be huge coming up into these playoffs,âÄù sophomore Anne Schleper said. âÄúWe definitely took care of business when it needed to be done.âÄù