Gophers move on to WCHA Final Four

Dani Cameranesi earned a hat trick on Saturday to lead the team to a sweep.

Gophers forward Dani Cameranesi battles for possession of the puck at Ridder Arena Saturday, when the Gophers defeated Ohio State 5-0. Cameranesi scored a hat trick in the victory which will advance the Gophers to next weekend's WCHA Final Face-Off.

Sam Harper

Gophers forward Dani Cameranesi battles for possession of the puck at Ridder Arena Saturday, when the Gophers defeated Ohio State 5-0. Cameranesi scored a hat trick in the victory which will advance the Gophers to next weekend’s WCHA Final Face-Off.

Emily Polglaze

Minnesota took its first steps in defending its national title over the weekend.
 
 
The Gophers swept Ohio State in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs to advance to the WCHA Final Faceoff next weekend. Minnesota won 5-2 on Friday and 5-0 on Saturday.
 
 
“We’re really excited to be moving on,” head coach Brad Frost said Saturday. “Our team came out with a jump today, and any time you can keep a zero on the board, that’s a positive thing.”
 
 
No. 2 Minnesota (31-3-1, 24-3-1 WCHA) went into the weekend as the second seed and faced off against seventh-seeded Ohio State (10-25-1, 6-21-1 WCHA).
 
 
The Gophers and Buckeyes were scoreless after one period on Friday, but junior forward Dani Cameranesi scored halfway through the second period to put Minnesota on the board. 
 
 
Ohio State tied the game a few minutes later, but senior forward Amanda Kessel scored to put Minnesota up 2-1 heading into the third period.
 
 
The Buckeyes tied the game again in the third, but the Gophers offense pulled away. 
 
 
Sophomore forward Kelly Pannek and junior forward Kate Schipper scored, and Kessel added an empty-netter to give Minnesota the victory.
 
 
In addition to Kessel’s two goals, senior forward Hannah Brandt added three assists.
 
 
“It was a lot of hard work,” Kessel said. “They really tried to capitalize on rushes, and we could’ve done a better job of not giving those up. But it’s [the] playoffs, and it was going to be a hard game.”
 
 
Cameranesi scored the only goal of the first period Saturday, to put the Gophers up 1-0 early.
 
 
Minnesota added its lead in the second with junior defenseman Lee Stecklein scoring her eighth goal of the year. Cameranesi added two more goals in the second for her 31st and 32nd goals of the year. 
 
 
Hats littered the Ridder Arena ice for Cameranesi’s second hat trick of the season and the fourth of her career.
 
 
Schipper added Minnesota’s last goal in the third period to end Ohio State’s season and close out the best-of-three series early. 
 
 
Senior goaltender Amanda Leveille had a 25-save shutout Saturday, and the first-line unit of Cameranesi, Schipper and Pannek combined for eight points.
 
 
The Gophers advanced to the WCHA Final Faceoff at home at Ridder Arena next weekend, when they will face No. 10 North Dakota. No. 3 Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth will be playing in the other game.
 
 
“It feels great to get into the first round of playoffs and put it away,” Cameranesi said. “But we still have a lot of work to do and a lot more games to keep winning, so we have to work hard this week.”