Gophers overcame losses, but fell short of title goal

Emily West and new goalie Noora Räty led Minnesota back to the Frozen Four.

Gophers overcame losses, but fell short of title goal

John Hageman

After several key departures before the season began last October, there were major questions surrounding the Gophers womenâÄôs hockey team and whether they could make another run at the national championship. The Gophers had answers, as they managed to return to the Frozen Four for the second straight year . âÄúItâÄôs hard to look back at the full year right now,âÄù Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said after the GophersâÄô loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA semifinals. âÄúI donâÄôt think there were too many people that felt we would be in this position in the Frozen Four after all the points that we lost.âÄù During the past offseason, freshmen twin sisters Monique Lamoureux and Jocelyne Lamoureux, MinnesotaâÄôs two leading scorers in 2008-09, transferred to North Dakota. They joined Gigi Marvin, a Gophers senior last season, on the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team , leaving the Gophers without their top three scorers in addition to All-American defender Melanie Gagnon. Helping fill the void were two proven international talents in Finnish freshmen Noora Räty and Mira Jalosuo , who aided the Minnesota defense. Räty, who started in goal for the Finnish national team as a 16-year-old at the 2006 Olympics, made an immediate impact. Before Räty was a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award this season, her arrival initially raised questions. After all, Minnesota already had the defending Western Collegiate Hockey Association goaltending champion in sophomore Alyssa Grogan. But after the two split a few opening series to start off the year, it was clear Räty would be a major part of the GophersâÄô success. In the third weekend of the year, Räty allowed just one goal to eventual NCAA champion Minnesota-Duluth. The Gophers began the season on a tear, winning their first eight games on their way to a 13-2-1 start. Those decisive victories included a sweep of No. 3 Clarkson. Sophomore Sarah Erickson, one of many players to take a larger role this season, tallied nine points in the first seven games. By the seasonâÄôs end, Erickson had nearly doubled her scoring production from her freshman campaign. Following an exhibition match with Team USA in mid-January, Minnesota slowed down, scoring only seven goals in four games. The Gophers needed more offense, especially after Räty left for the Olympics in late January and missed the rest of the regular season. Minnesota went 3-4-1 without Räty and watched a comfortable lead over Minnesota-Duluth in the WCHA dwindle in the final weeks. Inconsistent offensive production and spotty defense played a major part in the GophersâÄô struggles. But in perhaps their biggest win of the season, the Gophers scored two goals in the last 5:08 to win their regular-season finale. They defeated Wisconsin for the first time this season and claimed a share of the WCHA title with the Bulldogs. With Räty returning from Vancouver with a bronze medal for the first round of the WCHA playoffs and momentum back on their side, the Gophers looked poised to make a deep run in the postseason. Minnesota fell to the Bulldogs in the WCHA title game, but still earned a No. 3 seed for the NCAA playoffs . This guaranteed that the Gophers would be playing in Ridder Arena for the rest of the season. But after a 3-2 overtime victory over Clarkson in the NCAA quarterfinals , the Gophers found themselves on the wrong end of their matchup with Minnesota-Duluth at the Frozen Four semifinals. The Bulldogs went on to win the NCAA championship in triple overtime over Cornell. But after an offseason of surprise departures and missing pieces, the Gophers filled in the blanks with fresh faces and veteran leaders taking the weight on their shoulders. MinnesotaâÄôs leading scorer, junior captain Emily West, proved to be one of the most clutch players in the country, leading the nation with 10 game-winning goals. Sophomore Anne Schleper provided 32 points from the blue line , which earned her WCHA defensive player of the year honors, while freshman defender Megan Bozek improved throughout the season and received a spot on the All-WCHA Second Team and Rookie Team. This offseason should prove to be less tumultuous with only one of the top six leading scorers, senior captain Brittany Francis , leaving the team. Although FrancisâÄô and five other seniorsâÄô skates will be tough to fill, some of the top recruits in North America will suit up for the Gophers next year. âÄúI think weâÄôve gained some more valuable experience,âÄù Frost said. âÄúI think our players coming back âĦ will be hungry to try and rebound next year. We know every year is tough, and in our league, everybodyâÄôs got some great recruits coming in as do we, and it should be another interesting year.âÄù