If it seemed like destiny that the undefeated Gophers would waltz into the Women’s Frozen Four at their home rink next weekend, uncontested like usual, someone forgot to tell North Dakota.
Saturday night’s NCAA quarterfinal required almost three full overtimes — a total of 118 minutes and 51 seconds — before Kelly Terry finally poked home a rebound, giving the Gophers a 3-2 triumph at Ridder Arena.
When it ended, after the announced crowd of 2,750 finally exhaled, North Dakota coach Brian Idalski tried to find the words to console his players.
“I told them, ‘You know what? You gave arguably the best women’s hockey team in the history of the game all they could handle; you should be proud of that,’ ” Idalski said.
Yes, the Gophers (39-0) won’t just be hosting the Frozen Four; they’ll be participants, with their 47-game winning streak intact. They’ll play Boston College on Friday after Boston University plays Mercyhurst in the other semifinal.
To get there, the Gophers had to defeat North Dakota (26-12-1), something they had already done five times this season. But this time, UND turned it into an all-time classic. Minnesota played a triple-overtime game in 2010, but this one was the longest in the program's history.
“I’ll be surprised if anyone gives [Minnesota] a game like that next weekend,” North Dakota senior Jocelyne Lamoureux said.
Entering Saturday, the Gophers hadn’t even allowed a goal in six games, but that shutout streak went out the window as North Dakota took a 2-1 lead early in the second period.
The Gophers had trailed for just 47:56 all season up to that point, but to their credit, they never looked desperate. With four minutes left in the second period, senior defensemen Megan Bozek made an end-to-end rush, circled North Dakota’s net and hit Amanda Kessel with a perfect pass in front of the net.
Kessel, who assisted on Hannah Brandt’s first goal, buried Bozek’s pass for her 44th goal.
The score remained 2-2 for another 82:51, as both goaltenders were sensational.
North Dakota freshman Shelby Amsley-Benzie finished with 57 saves, and Minnesota senior Noora Raty had 50.
“I was just saying, ‘I’m not done yet … I want to play next Friday,’ ” Raty said. “So that definitely kept me focused and motivated.”
Each team had countless chances.
Minnesota’s Milica McMillen took a game misconduct for checking from behind, but the Gophers killed off the five-minute power play.
North Dakota killed two power plays in the first overtime. But Bozek drew a tripping penalty from Lamoureux with 2:44 remaining in the third overtime.
Moments later, Mira Jalosuo took a shot from the point that bounced off the boards behind the net. Rachel Bona grabbed the rebound on the other side of the goal and tried a bad-angle shot.
Terry was there to push the rebound over the goal line.
The referees reviewed the play, but the goal stood.
How tired were the players?
“We just finished two full games, so pretty tired,” Terry said. “I’m just so proud of the team.”
Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “I don’t know what it was like to watch. The pace slowed pretty substantially as we kept going through the overtimes. “But same thing as all year, when our team is pushed and has our back against the wall, they find a way to get the job done.”