DULUTH – The other team was in tears again Saturday, and the Gophers were mobbing each other, celebrating their sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four.
The scene following this 1-0 victory over Minnesota Duluth at Amsoil Arena was familiar for anyone who’s followed women’s college hockey in recent years.
But this seemed different. UMD had won three consecutive games against the two-time defending national champion Gophers, earning home-ice advantage for this NCAA quarterfinal.
The No. 3 Bulldogs were eyeing their first Frozen Four appearance since 2010, but the No. 6 Gophers dashed those dreams with a spectacular performance by goalie Sidney Peters and a third-period goal by freshman defenseman Patti Marshall.
“I don’t think anyone wants to see us in the Frozen Four other than our program, and we kind of relish that, to be the underdog,” said 10th-year Gophers coach Brad Frost, whose team has won four of the past five NCAA titles.
The Gophers (26-7-5) will meet No. 2 Clarkson on Friday at the Frozen Four in St. Charles, Mo. The other semifinal will pit No. 1 Wisconsin against No. 4 Boston College.
Minnesota Duluth (27-7-5) swept the Gophers in mid-January and knocked them from the WCHA tournament last weekend, when goalie Maddie Rooney made 62 saves in a 2-1, double-overtime thriller.
The goalie clinic continued for almost 2 ½ periods Saturday. Peters made several big saves, and the Bulldogs hit the goalposts three times, adding to their misery.
It was still scoreless, with less than 12 minutes remaining, when Kelly Pannek curled up the boards with the puck. Pannek, who entered Saturday leading the nation with 61 points, saw Marshall breaking for the net. From the half-wall, the junior whistled a long pass, which Marshall handled perfectly, beating Rooney on the short side for her third goal of the season.
“Kelly’s a heads-up player, so I just tried to find a seam back door and she found me back there,” Marshall said.
UMD’s Lara Stalder, a Patty Kazmaier finalist with 56 points, blamed herself for not covering Marshall on the play. Stalder had scored the game-winning goal to beat the Gophers just a week earlier, but this game left her wiping tears.
“I wasn’t looking for a second, and [Marshall] was back door,” Stalder said. “And don’t even try to blame it on Rooney. She held us in the game and made huge saves, and it was my mistake.”
UMD coach Maura Crowell interjected, saying, “We wouldn’t even be in the game if it wasn’t for the way Stalder played all season long.”
The goal might haunt the Bulldogs, but Frost saw it differently.
“I don’t know if anybody else in the country makes that play other than Kelly Pannek,” he said. “You talk about what separates Kelly from every other player in the country and it’s the vision that you saw right there.”
The Gophers have been in a scoring drought, but Marshall didn’t miss that one.
“For Patti to see it, get in the right spot, and then to finish — 90 percent of the time, that hits a player’s stick and goes into the corner because they’re not strong enough on their stick,” Frost said. “And she just buried it. It was just a phenomenal play.”
Peters did the rest, notching her ninth shutout of the season. Then the party was on.
“I don’t think in other years that we’ve celebrated that hard to get to the Frozen Four,” Pannek said. “This season’s been riddled with chaos and so many ebbs and flows. And just knowing that we could extend our season, it’s just so fun.”