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Gophers clinch fastest-ever WCHA title

Goalie Noora Räty also set an NCAA wins record as the Gophers swept Minnesota-Duluth.
Minnesota forward Amanda Kessel takes the puck against Minnesota Duluth on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at Ridder Arena.
Image by Ichigo Takikawa
Minnesota forward Amanda Kessel takes the puck against Minnesota Duluth on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at Ridder Arena.

In a season full of record-setting performances, the Gophers women’s hockey team achieved its first real goal this weekend at Ridder Arena — in record fashion, of course.

The Gophers beat Minnesota-Duluth 5-0 on Friday to claim the WCHA Conference’s regular-season title, becoming the fastest team ever to do so.

“We set three goals at the beginning of the year,” head coach Brad Frost said Friday, “and our team just accomplished the first.”

The Gophers added a 6-2 victory Saturday to extend their record winning streak to 36 games and complete their first season sweep of the Bulldogs in program history.

Minnesota last won the WCHA regular-season title in 2009-10. The team has won seven titles in all.

In addition to the trophy, senior goaltender Noora Räty broke the NCAA Division I record for career wins Friday with 101. With the win Saturday, she now has 102.

“It was a good game to break the record so people are more focused on our regular-season championship than my record,” Räty said.

Räty’s feat didn’t come easily, as she saved 24 shots from the Bulldogs — even more than the Gophers’ 22 shots on goal.

But the extra offensive chances didn’t help UMD. Senior forward Becky Kortum started the scoring with a shorthanded, first-period goal.

Junior forward Amanda Kessel added a goal in the second period before the Gophers broke it open in the third.

Junior forward Sarah Davis, Kessel and freshman defender Milica McMillen each scored in the final stanza.

Freshman forward Hannah Brandt, who assisted on both of Kessel’s goals, said the WCHA title is especially exciting for the freshman class.

“We hear all about last year, and it kind of sucks that we weren’t there for it,” Brandt said, referring to the Gophers’ NCAA title. “Winning this trophy is a great start for us.”

Senior captain Megan Bozek accepted the trophy for the team. She said even with the Gophers’ winning and unbeaten records, this team trophy feels different.

“We’ve had a lot of big weekends,” Bozek said Friday. “But always getting a trophy and being able to hang a banner in Ridder Arena is a very special feeling.”

Frost said Friday he wasn’t concerned about his team losing motivation.

“We’ve been breaking records … throughout the whole year and still coming back the next night and playing extremely hard,” Frost said. “So nothing changes for us.”

After a slow start Saturday, the Gophers backed Frost’s words. Minnesota trailed after one period for the second time this season — 1-0 — but it scored four goals late in the third period to secure the victory.

Halfway through the first period, Bulldogs senior forward Pernilla Winberg converted a rebound to give her team the unlikely lead.

“That first period was probably our worst of the year,” Frost said.

The Gophers turned the game around in the second period with power-play goals from Brandt and McMillen.

But the Bulldogs evened up the score at the 5:39 mark of the third on a shorthanded, unassisted goal from sophomore forward Jenna McParland.

For the first time since Minnesota’s last loss almost a year ago, the Gophers had a tie score with eight minutes left in the game.

But Kessel came to her team’s rescue, scoring the first of three Gophers goals in a two-minute span.

“I knew that we needed a goal badly,” Kessel said, “and so I put everything I had into that [play] to get open there.”

Sophomore forward Rachael Bona and sophomore forward Meghan Lorence added the second and third goals. Sophomore defender/forward Jordyn Burns netted the final goal with 35 seconds left.

Frost said it was good the team had to grind out the win Saturday.

“I want our team to be put in some tough spots,” Frost said, “because we just haven’t faced a ton of adversity on the ice.”

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