Gophers win third title in four years

Minnesota bested Harvard in a 4-1 decision before a sold-out arena.

Gophers Rachel Ramsey and Rachael Bona celebrate with the trophy after winning the 2015 NCAA Women's Frozen Four championship against Harvard University in Ridder Arena on Sunday, March 22nd.

Gophers Rachel Ramsey and Rachael Bona celebrate with the trophy after winning the 2015 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four championship against Harvard University in Ridder Arena on Sunday, March 22nd.

Grant Donald

As the five Gophers skaters on the ice patiently passed around the puck, allowing the final minute to bleed mercilessly off the clock, a celebration of the program’s third national championship in four years had already begun.

The sold out crowd of 3,400 at Ridder Arena, comprised almost entirely of Gophers fans, rose to its feet. Players on Minnesota’s bench began hugging and congratulating each other.

And then the final horn sounded.

The scoreboard confirmed what everyone already knew: The Gophers were national champions yet again after defeating Harvard 4-1.

“I think my helmet was off with a minute left in the game. Hopefully no one was changing [lines] because I wasn’t going back out there,” senior assistant captain Meghan Lorence said. “[Head coach Brad] Frost was yelling ‘Get those helmets ready to throw because it’s the best feeling in the world.’”

The whirlwind celebration followed a flurry of third-period goals, three of which Minnesota scored.

Harvard made it interesting at the end, tallying its first goal of the game in the third period to cut Minnesota’s lead to 2-1 with just less than five minutes remaining, but the Gophers responded — much like they have all season.

Adversity struck as early as September, when the Gophers had to accept the reality that former Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award recipient Amanda Kessel would be sidelined for the entire season after lingering concussion symptoms from before last year’s Olympics.

The team then staggered through an uncharacteristically rough stretch at the beginning of the season, losing games in regulation and shootouts to Bemidji State and Minnesota-Duluth.

But at the end, Frost and the Gophers found themselves right where they hoped they would be — celebrating on the ice as national champions.

“I think I’m in the midst of something really special,” Frost said. “I don’t know what is going on. … We have great administrations, great coaches and great kids.”

A majority of those “great kids” have been lethal scorers for the Gophers all year. But it was defenseman Megan Wolfe — not a typical scorer — who started the scoring late in the first period.

Wolfe, who had only recorded two goals on the season heading into Sunday, weaved through the Harvard defense and sent the puck into the upper-right corner of the net with 50 seconds left in the first period to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.

“[Wolfe] is someone that we recruited as a forward, played her on [defense] all last year because we needed to,” Frost said. “We played her up front for half of this year and I don’t think she scored a goal, and then she comes up with a beauty [today]. It just got the momentum for us.”

The teams then skated to a scoreless second period before the Gophers’ major offensive threats got involved in the third period.

With 11 minutes remaining in the game, Maryanne Menefee led a 2-on-1 opportunity up the ice with fellow junior Hannah Brandt on her right.

Like they’ve done many times before, Menefee smoothly centered the puck to Brandt, who flicked it into the twine.

But it was the combination of freshman Kelly Pannek and Lorence who iced the game for the Gophers.

After Harvard cut the deficit to one goal, Pannek started an eerily similar sequence, which ended with Lorence calmly putting the puck in the net.

“I’ve been playing with Meghan all year, and that’s her shot to be honest,” senior captain Rachael Bona said. “I was the one following Kelly, and I was wondering who she was passing to. Then I looked over and saw Meghan in her spot.”

Bona added a late empty-net goal to round out the scoring for the Gophers and began the celebration that started with the team piling up on junior goalie Amanda Leveille.

But before she was swarmed by all 20 of her teammates, Leveille was the rock the Gophers needed.

“She was the reason, in my opinion, that we were able to beat Wisconsin the other night,” Frost said. “She was a freshman when we went 41-0, and she saw what it took to be a champion.”

For the seniors, they end their careers with the highest winning percentage of any class in program history. And although they will never play in their Gophers jerseys at Ridder Arena again, the legacy they leave will live on forever.

“It couldn’t have ended much better than it did,” Bona said.