Bulldogs spoil conference title hopes

Minnesota needed a second overtime to beat Ohio State but couldn’t beat Minnesota-Duluth.

Bulldogs spoil conference title hopes

John Hageman

For two talented teams that were virtually even in every sense of the word throughout the season, it came as no surprise that the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship game between No. 3 Minnesota and No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth would be close. The WCHA regular season womenâÄôs co-champions had split their season series right down the middle with scores of 3-0 and 3-1 in both meetings. However, when the records were thrown out, it was the Bulldogs who prevailed, winning the conference crown in a 3-2 game. The Gophers needed some late-game heroics Saturday in the semifinal match of the WCHA Final Faceoff with Ohio State to have a shot against their archrival. In the semifinal game, the Gophers got off to a slow start as Ohio StateâÄôs Brittany Carlson punched one in at 6:35 to take the early lead . Minnesota responded with a power-play goal from senior captain Brittany Francis . Freshman Megan Bozek sent the puck toward the net from the far circle to Francis all alone on the opposite side of the net. The two teams were tied going into the final period, but a waterfall of goals brought the game into an extra period. Minnesota scored three times in the period but each time the Buckeyes responded with a goal of their own. The final goal came with Ohio State on a six-on-four advantage as the Buckeyes were on power play and pulled goalie Chelsea Knapp with 17.3 seconds left in the game. In the first overtime, Minnesota outshot the Buckeyes 13-7 but could not find the back of the net. Senior Chelsey Jones had a couple of opportunities to win the game, with one of her shots from the slot bouncing off the crossbar, and a goal that was called off after the puck hit her hand and went in. It took just three and a half minutes for the Gophers to put the game away in the second overtime. Freshman Becky Kortum pushed the puck toward the net, and Jones deflected it. Junior Laura May tipped it in from the crease to send the Gophers to the championship game with the 5-4 win. âÄúThey were relentless in continuing to come at us,âÄù Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said . âÄúWe had an opportunity to win that game in regulation, but penalty problems got to us a little bit âĦ and that happens.âÄù The Gophers started SundayâÄôs championship game slow once again and did not tally a shot on goal until more than 12 minutes had elapsed in the first period. Early penalties had much to do with the lack of offense, with the Gophers taking three penalties in the first two minutes . In the meantime, the Bulldogs took advantage of some costly errors. When sophomore Sarah Erickson lost the puck deep in MinnesotaâÄôs own zone, the BulldogsâÄô Jessica Wong picked it up and shot it past Gophers goalie Noora Räty for the unassisted goal at 5:59 in the first. After Minnesota sophomore Kelly Seeler was called for elbowing, Minnesota-DuluthâÄôs Emmanuelle Blais scored the power-play goal to put the Bulldogs up 2-0. The Gophers got on the board late in the first with a goal from Erickson at 17:06 to give the Gophers a little momentum going into the second period. The Bulldogs were able to extend their lead, however, with what would prove to be a game-winning goal from Audrey Cournoyer at 11:21 in the second to put her team up 3-1 . The Gophers would not go away, as Erickson added her second goal of the game with an assist from Francis , sniping the puck past Bulldogs goalie Jennifer Harss âÄô left shoulder to put the game at 3-2 in favor of the Bulldogs. âÄúItâÄôs kind of hard when youâÄôre down two goals,âÄù Francis said. âÄúI think we battled back, and we just kept saying, âÄòKeep battling, keep fighting, keep getting the pucks to the net, because somethingâÄôs got to go in.âÄô âÄù A back-and-forth final period led to Minnesota taking a timeout with 2:02 left to set up for a final push. As soon as they got it out of their zone, Räty was pulled. But it proved to be too little too late for the Gophers, and they fell to Minnesota-Duluth 3-2. âÄúIt was obviously not the outcome we were hoping for or preparing for,âÄù Frost said. âÄú[IâÄôm] really proud of our players. I thought they gave everything they had âĦ and I donâÄôt think they have anything to hang their head about.âÄù The Gophers earned the No. 3 seed for the NCAA tournament and will face Clarkson in quarterfinal matchup Saturday at home next weekend for the opportunity to play in the Frozen Four, also at Ridder Arena. âÄúIâÄôm looking forward to next week. IâÄôd like to, obviously, see us advance and win a national championship,âÄù Erickson said.