Chance at WCHA tournament title awaits Gophers in Duluth

Minn. hasn’t won a conference tournament title since 2005.

Gophers sophomore Kelly Terry handles a puck during a game against North Dakota Feb. 18 at Ridder Arena.

Anthony Kwan, Daily File Photo

Gophers sophomore Kelly Terry handles a puck during a game against North Dakota Feb. 18 at Ridder Arena.

by Samuel Gordon

Flash back to Mar. 5, 2011.

Then-No. 3 Minnesota held not one, but two sizable leads over No. 1 Wisconsin, and it was poised to claim its first WCHA tournament crown since 2005.

But a win that night wasn’t in the cards.

The Gophers squandered a 4-2 third-period lead and were dominated in overtime before eventually falling 5-4 to the soon-to-be national-champion Badgers.

Almost a year later, they could get their crack at redemption.

Minnesota (29-5-2, 21-5-2 WCHA) will travel to Duluth, Minn., Thursday in preparation for this weekend’s WCHA Final Face-Off and semifinal opponent North Dakota.

With a victory, it’ll earn a berth in the championship game against the winner of No. 1 Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth.

“It’d be huge [to win the Final Face-Off] because we never have in the four years that I’ve played,” senior center Jen Schoullis said. “We’ve won the regular season, but we’ve never won the tournament. Last year we came so close.”

If No. 2 Minnesota can put together a complete team effort, it will have an awfully good chance to seal the deal, forward Kelly Terry said.

“If our first line is up against their first line, sometimes it makes it hard for [us] to score because [our first line is] kind of focused on shutting down their first line,” Terry said. “But when our second and third lines are better than theirs, I don’t think we can be beat.”

Minnesota’s second and third lines have been sensational in recent weeks, especially last weekend against St. Cloud State when 16 of the 17 players who dressed recorded a point.

Terry has played on the second and third lines this season and said on-ice communication has been and will continue to be pivotal for all lines.

Second-line center Sarah Davis said points from secondary lines help alleviate the first-line’s scoring responsibilities.

“We look to our first line for leadership. They are constantly putting up points. … I think they feel relief when then the second and third line produce,” she said. “I also feel like when the first line produces, we can produce as well.”

Davis said the team’s mentality — “never be satisfied” — has helped the offense in the season’s second half and in preparation for the WCHA tournament.

North Dakota, the Gophers’ semifinal opponent, possesses one of the most potent offenses in the nation, and keeping that at bay will be a lofty task.

Twin sisters Jocelyne Lamoureux and Monique Lamoureux-Kolls are two of the most dominant players in the country, with 82 and 70 points respectively.

UND and Minnesota split both series against each other this season, including the final series of the regular season.

“We’re so familiar with the teams in our league,” Gophers head coach Brad Frost said. “There’s not a lot that’s going to change should we win Friday night.”

If seeds hold — which is no guarantee given UND’s track record against Minnesota this year — the Gophers’ likely opponent in the finals is no pushover either.

Defending champion Wisconsin (31-3-2, 21-3-2 WCHA) is led by forwards Brianna Decker (77 points) and Brooke Ammerman (74 points).

Badgers netminder Alex Rigsby is one of the best in the country. Her goals-against average of 1.34 leads the nation.

The Gophers are 2-1-1 against Wisconsin this season.

Forwards Haley Irwin (52 points) and Audrey Cournoyer (47 points) lead UMD. The Bulldogs (20-13-1, 15-12-1 WCHA) are winless in four games against the Badgers this year, although they did push Wisconsin to overtime in their most recent affair.

Minnesota is 3-1 this year against UMD.

Frost said players are doing a good job of managing the pressure of the Final Face-Off thus far.

“The games are the same, the opponents are the same,” Frost said. “Now it’s just the matter of playing for a championship. … We talked yesterday that we haven’t hung a WCHA banner at [Ridder Arena] since 2005. That’s a goal of ours here this weekend.”