A season filled with lopsided, never-in-doubt victories has given way to some serious NCAA tournament drama for the Gophers women’s hockey team.
The Gophers might be perfect, but lately it’s taken some real patience to see it through.
After being pushed to triple overtime by North Dakota in last weekend’s NCAA quarterfinals, the Gophers went back to overtime Friday night at Ridder Arena in the semifinals against Boston College.
This time, less than two minutes into the extra session, Gophers center Sarah Davis jumped on a loose puck in front of Boston College’s net and made a beautiful move to give the Gophers a 3-2 victory. They will try for their second consecutive NCAA title and an undefeated season in Sunday’s 3 p.m. championship game against Boston University. BU defeated Mercyhurst 4-1 in the other semifinal Friday night.
“Obviously I wanted to get it right away,” Davis said. “We didn’t want to play any more three-overtime [games].”
BC used a 36-save performance from senior goaltender Corinne Boyles to give the Gophers (40-0) another big scare. The Eagles led 1-0 after the second period, marking the first time all season Minnesota has trailed entering the third.
During that intermission, Gophers coaches had some strong words for the players.
“They came in and said, ‘You guys better not be doubting us because if you don’t believe in it, it’s not going to get done,’ ” senior Becky Kortum said. “And honestly, personally, I had no doubt. I wasn’t scared we were going to lose.”
The Gophers tied it early in the third period when Hannah Brandt tipped home Megan Bozek’s blast from the point for her 32nd goal.
With 7:48 remaining in regulation, Kortum gave Minnesota a 2-1 lead, banging home a rebound off a shot from Rachael Bona.
But BC (27-7-3) answered two minutes later when the Gophers got caught in a defensive change, leading to a 2-on-1 break. All-America goaltender Noora Raty made the save on Haley Skarupa’s shot, but Lexi Bender scored on the rebound.
It was a big letdown for the Gophers, and the tension was palpable for a sellout crowd inside the 3,400-seat arena.
“Any time people question the character in our locker room, I chuckle,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “And maybe some were questioning again the character in our room. … But again, when our team is pushed and challenged, and we need a goal, we get one.”
The winner came not from Brandt or Kessel, the nation’s leading scorer. Nor Bozek, the nation’s second-leading scoring defenseman.
It came from Davis, a junior from Paradise, Newfoundland, who averaged 11.5 goals her first two years at Minnesota but has scored just seven goals this year.
From behind the net, Bethany Brausen flicked the puck out front. Davis grabbed it in the high slot, pulled the puck to her forehand side, getting Boyles to commit, and then wristed it into the twine.
Frost said Davis has “tremendous patience and real, real silky hands” but acknowledged that the junior has felt a bit snake-bitten this season. It hasn’t affected Davis’ demeanor.
She kidded herself about her celebration, a rather awkward leap into the Plexiglas.
“That could use some work,” Davis said. “I board-jumped, and I always tell myself, ‘Never board-jump.’ But emotion took over. Everyone was so pumped and I don’t know, I’m smiling like a fool right now, but it’s a great day.”
And this team lived to see another one Sunday.