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Shot at redemption in Frozen Four for longtime Gophers

Heise, Ostertag, Zumwinkle and Oden were all members of the 2019 Gophers squad that fell to Wisconsin in the NCAA championship game.
Image by Emily Urfer
The last time the Gophers made it to the NCAA championship game was in 2019 when they lost to Wisconsin.

After avenging their 2022 Frozen Four loss last weekend against Duluth, seven Gophers will have one last shot at redemption for their loss in the 2019 national championship.

Minnesota will take on rival Wisconsin on Friday in one final Border Battle at AMSOIL Arena in the Frozen Four semifinals. No. 2 Minnesota advanced to the Frozen Four via a 3-0 shutout of No. 7 Duluth at Ridder Arena last weekend. Over in Hamilton, N.Y., No. 6 Wisconsin upset No. 3 Colgate 4-2.

The Gophers are returning to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament semifinals for the first time since 2019. For the majority of the active roster, this will be their first time playing in the Frozen Four.

A handful of active Gophers have previously played in the Frozen Four

Two current fifth-years, Savannah Norcross and Lizi Norton, played for other collegiate teams prior to joining the Gophers. Norcross played for Boston College for three seasons, while Norton played for Duluth — the same team that eliminated Minnesota in last year’s NCAA quarterfinals — for four seasons.

Fifth-years Taylor Heise, Gracie Ostertag, Grace Zumwinkle and Emily Oden were members of the 2018-19 Gophers squad as first-years.

After dominating Princeton 5-2 and shutting out Cornell 2-0 in the NCAA tournament, the 2019 Golden Gophers earned a spot in the national championship against the Badgers.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, they came just short of their dream of winning. Wisconsin played a strong defensive game, especially goaltender Kristen Campbell, and shut out the Gophers 2-0 in the national title game.

Regular season struggles

In Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) play, Wisconsin was undefeated against Minnesota in regulation.

Outscoring the Gophers 16-11, the Badgers only failed to beat Minnesota once. Minnesota claimed an extra point in a shootout victory back in November.

Otherwise, Wisconsin would claim three out of four regular-season games versus the Gophers, winning one game in a shootout and the other two in regulation.

It was a defensive struggle for the Gophers in their two regulation losses against Wisconsin. In their first regulation loss, Minnesota fell 4-1 and was handed their second regulation loss of the season.

The second regulation loss to Wisconsin was a much different game. Minnesota held a multi-goal lead at the beginning of the second period.

That was until the defense collapsed and the Gophers allowed 4 straight goals. Despite tying the game midway through the third period, Minnesota could not stop the bleeding and allowed 3 more goals in the final frame.

Wisconsin rang up a total of 7 goals on the Gophers in their 7-5 win, the most Minnesota has conceded in a single game this season.

Finding their game in the WCHA Final Faceoff

Prior to the NCAA tournament, Minnesota competed in the WCHA playoffs.

The Gophers swept St. Thomas in the first round, setting them up against the Badgers in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals.

Minnesota played a great defensive game, holding Wisconsin to just 25 shots on goal. The Gophers won the back-and-forth scoring match 4-2 and advanced to the WCHA championship, where they took down Ohio State 3-1 to claim the title.

Their first regulation win against Wisconsin could not have come at a better time, but the Gophers will need to replicate their defensive play on the national stage in yet another elimination game against the Badgers.

The stakes this time are much higher than the WCHA Final Faceoff, as a win would send them to the national championship, while a loss would end their season.

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