Women repeat as WCHA tournament champions

The Gophers won their second straight WCHA tournament title, beating Ohio State and North Dakota.

Minnesota Gophers celebrate winning their second WCHA Final Face-Off trophy on Saturday, March 9, 2013 against North Dakota. No. 1 ranked Minnesota currently holds the NCAA-record with a 46-game winning streak going into the NCAA quarterfinals next weekend.

Amanda Snyder

Minnesota Gophers celebrate winning their second WCHA Final Face-Off trophy on Saturday, March 9, 2013 against North Dakota. No. 1 ranked Minnesota currently holds the NCAA-record with a 46-game winning streak going into the NCAA quarterfinals next weekend.

Megan Ryan

Neither Ohio State nor North Dakota came close to beating the No. 1 Gophers women’s hockey team this weekend in the WCHA Final Face-off at Ridder Arena.

The Gophers beat the Buckeyes 5-0 in Friday’s semifinals and North Dakota 2-0 in Saturday’s final to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association tournament for the second year in a row. Minnesota extended its winning streak to 46 games while tallying its sixth straight shutout.

And it wouldn’t be the Gophers if they hadn’t set a NCAA Division I record as well — this time for wins in a season with 38.

“This is an unprecedented thing that you’re seeing here with Minnesota,” Buckeyes head coach Nate Handrahan said after the Friday loss.

North Dakota head coach Brian Idalski sang similar praises of the Gophers, who also won the WCHA regular-season title.

“I’ve only been around for 10 years or so, but that’s one of the most complete hockey teams I’ve ever seen in women’s hockey, easily,” Idalski said Saturday.

Freshman forwards Hannah Brandt and Maryanne Menefee, senior defender Megan Bozek and senior goaltender Noora Räty made the all-tournament team. The conference named Räty the most valuable player of the tournament.

Räty made 24 saves against Ohio State and 30 saves against North Dakota.

“I just wanted to win so bad,” Räty said.

North Dakota held the Gophers scoreless in the first period of Saturday’s final while outshooting them 11-10.

The game grew tense at the end of the first period and early in the second as both teams committed several penalties while tied 0-0.

The Gophers capitalized on North Dakota’s third penalty four minutes into the second period.

Senior defender Mira Jalosuo sent a blistering slap shot from the blue line and junior forward Kelly Terry deflected the puck into the net. But the referees reviewed the goal and called it off because of a high stick.

Bozek said the team huddled during the review and realized it had the momentum whether the goal counted or didn’t. Less than 30 seconds later, she scored the game’s first goal with a slap shot from the left circle.

“They have all year long answered the bell when something goes wrong,” Idalski said. “You score, they answer back. They have some adversity, they come back and they go a little bit harder. … That’s a huge trait of being a championship team.”

The Gophers continued their momentum two minutes later when Menefee stole the puck to earn a breakaway and roofed a twisted wrist shot.

Gophers head coach Brad Frost said North Dakota played “desperate,” and Brandt said North Dakota is known for being physical. But Brandt said her team showed discipline by not reacting to the rough play and limiting its penalties to three.

North Dakota had its only two power plays of the game in the third period — one of which came at the end of the game when North Dakota also pulled its goalkeeper.

North Dakota had a 6-on-4 advantage with the extra attacker but the two-goal deficit was too much to overcome.

The Gophers players mobbed Räty, and equipment littered the ice as the final buzzer sounded.

In Friday’s semifinal against Ohio State, Menefee scored twice for the Gophers. Menefee’s first goal gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead, but Bozek said the turning point came on their second goal, which Brandt scored off a pass from junior defender Baylee Gillanders.

The game intensified in the second period as the Gophers committed three penalties and the Buckeyes committed two. The teams nearly came to blows several times.

Jalosuo incurred a penalty for tripping before adding a third goal for the Gophers at about six minutes into the second period.

Bozek had a penalty for roughing but made up for it with a blistering shot from the blue line about 11 minutes in the third period.

“I kind of saw the goalie was out of the net, so [I] had to take a big wind-up and hope for it to go in,” Bozek said.

Junior forward Amanda Kessel played the whole weekend but was not at 100 percent, and she only managed one assist against North Dakota. She had played a limited role, if at all, the previous two weekends, Frost said.

With the tournament victory, the Gophers earned an automatic bid to the national championship, which they won last year.

Minnesota received the No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament Sunday and will face North Dakota again in the quarterfinals next Saturday.