Minnesota readies for Princeton on Saturday

The Gophers will face the Tigers with a berth in the Frozen Four on the line.

Defender Emily Brown looks to pass the puck up the ice at Ridder Arena on Sunday, March 10. Wisconsin beat the Gophers 3-1 to win the 2019 WCHA Final Faceoff.

Jack Rodgers

Defender Emily Brown looks to pass the puck up the ice at Ridder Arena on Sunday, March 10. Wisconsin beat the Gophers 3-1 to win the 2019 WCHA Final Faceoff.

Erik Nelson

The Gophers will have a chance to advance to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2017 if they win on home ice against an unfamiliar opponent.

No. 2 Minnesota (30-5-1) will face No. 7 Princeton (20-7-5) on Saturday at Ridder Arena in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Opening faceoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. The winner will advance to the Frozen Four in Hamden, Connecticut. The Gophers missed out on the Frozen Four in 2018 after losing to Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Coming into Saturday’s game, Minnesota is the highest-scoring team in the NCAA. The Gophers have scored 153 goals in 36 games for an average of 4.25 per game.

The Gophers last played Princeton in 2016 under very similar circumstances. The Gophers defeated the Tigers 6-2 in the NCAA quarterfinal round en route to Minnesota’s second consecutive national championship. Since 1997, Minnesota has an all time record of 9-0-1 against Princeton. This will be Minnesota’s third postseason game against Princeton in program history.

Head coach Brad Frost said Saturday’s game will be fast and energetic.

“They play with great speed and great freedom, and so do we,” Frost said. “It should be a very entertaining hockey game.”

Only the Gophers’ seniors have played in the Frozen Four, and seven of them have won a national championship. Center Kelly Pannek has won two national championships with the Gophers.

Pannek said Minnesota’s younger players give older players like herself a new perspective.

“Everyone’s pushing to get that next step,” Pannek said. “They have those fresh attitudes. All of this is new to them. Everyone is ready and excited to what this weekend brings. For me, it’s reminding everyone that we trust what we’re doing and trust what we’ve done all year. There’s nothing like these last few weeks.”

Minnesota’s defense has allowed just under two goals per game on average. Goaltenders Alex Gulstene and Sydney Scobee each have a goals-against average of 1.75 and two shutouts. The Gophers have allowed an average of just over 22 shots per game.

Defender Emily Brown said the Gophers have to remain committed to defense even though the team is the top-scoring team in the nation.

“It’s a whole team effort,” Brown said. “It’s important, especially come playoff time.”

If the Gophers win, they will face either No. 3 Northeastern (27-5-5) or No. 6 Cornell (23-5-6) in the Frozen Four semifinal at People’s United Center in Hamden, Connecticut on Saturday, March 22.If they lose, there will be no more Minnesota women’s hockey for a few months.

Frost said getting home-ice advantage in the first round of the NCAA Quarterfinal was a goal that the team had at the beginning of the season.

“We call it connecting the dots,” he said. “It’s a long season. To make sure that we finish first or second in the WCHA, that’s a big deal for us. We’ve been successful at home and not as successful on the road in these games. Playing at home is key for us.”