Gophers beat Badgers, advance to championship game

Minnesota junior forward Rachael Bona scored the game-winning goal.

by Betsy Helfand

HAMDEN, Conn. — The Gophers beat Wisconsin four times during the regular season season.

And on Friday night, with a trip to the national championship on the line, they did it once more.

Minnesota beat the Badgers 5-3 in the Frozen Four semifinals in Hamden, Conn., to advance to the title game for the third year in a row.  

The Gophers have won back-to-back national championship and will go for a three-peat Sunday against the winner of the Mercyhurst/Clarkson matchup.

Minnesota battled back from one-goal deficits twice after Wisconsin took leads near the end of the first two periods.

“They persevered and started playing the way that we know that they can. They believed that they could get the job done and they found a way to do it,” head coach Brad Frost said. “[I’m] so proud of our kids and ecstatic to be heading on to the final.”

The Gophers, like they did last week in the quarterfinal, broke the game open in the third period with three goals.

“We have a belief in each other and in ourselves that we’re going to get the job done and I think that’s probably the biggest reason why we’ve been successful even when we’re down,” sophomore forward Hannah Brandt said.

Brandt, the nation’s leading scorer, tied the game for Minnesota with 14:23 left in the game.

Then shortly after junior forward Rachael Bona scored the game-winning goal for the Gophers.

Gophers senior defenseman Baylee Gillanders added an insurance goal late in the game, which helped seal Minnesota’s fate.

“I didn’t know if I was going to get one [national championship] and now on Sunday I’ll be playing for my third in three years,” Bona said. “It’s unbelievable that we’re here again.”

Minnesota’s road to its third straight national championship was anything but easy.

The Gophers were outplayed in the first period, and Frost said the first period reminded him of how his team played in the first period against North Dakota — in the team’s one loss this season.

Minnesota gave up three first period goals in that game.

On Friday, sophomore goaltender Amanda Leveille only gave up one first period goal to keep her team in the game.

“Thankfully [Leveille] … made some fantastic saves there,” Frost said. “It was not looking good there through a couple periods. I was frustrated with our players in the way that they were playing and they were frustrated.”

The Gophers were able to dash the momentum Badgers took into the first intermission shortly into the second period.

Minnesota senior forward Kelly Terry scored a goal on a rebound off a shot by freshman forward Dani Cameranesi that hit a post.

A few minutes later, sophomore forward Maryanne Menefee snuck a puck past Wisconsin goaltender Alex Rigsby on the power play.

Wisconsin evened the score — and took a lead — late in the second period.

“Usually when we play Wisconsin over the last probably 5-6 years, it’s a race to three so when they got to 3-2 it’s kind of like, ‘Aww geez. We might have let something slip away,’” Frost said.

They didn’t, and the Gophers played markedly better in the third period. And now, they’re just one win away from their sixth national title.

“It was awesome winning it last year, and I know how good it feels,” Brandt said. “We all want to do it again.”