HAMDEN, CONN. – After one period Friday at the Women’s Frozen Four, Brad Frost thought his Gophers looked “dead in the water.”
After two periods, with Wisconsin back in front and the Gophers’ hopes for a third straight NCAA title in serious jeopardy, Frost delivered a challenge:
“The last thing you want to do is look back on this game and have some regrets,” the seventh-year coach told the players. “I don’t care if we win or lose, but let’s go out and play for the person next to you.”
The response was breathtaking. Hannah Brandt tied the score, Rachael Bona made the play of the day to give Minnesota the lead, and Baylee Gillanders added an insurance goal for a 5-3 semifinal victory at the TD Bank Sports Center.
After securing a spot in Sunday’s NCAA championship game, the Gophers (38-1-1) rushed toward goaltender Amanda Leveille to celebrate and heave a sigh of relief. They’ll meet Clarkson, which defeated Mercyhurst 5-1 in Friday’s second semifinal.
Minnesota is 25-0-1 since having its record-breaking 62-game winning streak stopped against North Dakota on Nov. 17. The Gophers have also won 11 consecutive games against Wisconsin, dating to 2011, but two of those this year were one-goal victories.
This time Wisconsin (28-8-2) peppered Gophers goalie Amanda Leveille with 16 first-period shots but went to the locker room leading just 1-0.
“I was leaving the ice thinking we should have been up 3-0,” Badgers coach Mark Johnson said.
Kelly Terry and Maryanne Menefee scored in the second period, giving the Gophers a 2-1 lead. But Wisconsin went back in front with two goals late in the period, including a one-time blast from the high slot by Warroad native Karley Sylvester.
“It just didn’t look good,” Frost said. “And then all of a sudden, we flipped a switch. And once we got that tying goal … we found another gear that we didn’t have in the first two periods.”
Brandt is one of three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the nation’s top player. The winner will be announced Saturday morning, and if the selection committee needed more proof of Brandt’s value it came in the third period.
With six seconds left on a pivotal power play, Brandt fired a wrist shot from the top of the left circle that went past Wisconsin’s All-America goalie Alex Rigsby.
“We don’t really get too nervous, I don’t think,” Brandt said. “I think that we have a belief in each other and in ourselves that we are going to get the job done, and that’s probably why we’ve been as successful even when we are down.”
Less than three minutes later, Bona took a pass from Sarah Davis at mid-ice and used a little toe drag to get around a defenseman. Then, alone with Rigsby, Bona quickly shifted from her backhand to her forehand and lifted the puck in the net.
“I love the toe drag, and it just happened to work that time,” said Bona, whose 22 goals are second on the team to Brandt’s 23.
With 4:28 left, Brandt skated into the zone and dropped a pass for Gillanders, who rattled in a shot off one of the goal posts. It marked the first time this season Wisconsin has allowed more than four goals.
“Usually when we play Wisconsin … it’s a race to three,” Frost said. “So when they got to 3-2, it was kind of like, ‘Geez, we might have let something slip away.’ ”
But they had it back in their clutches by game’s end, with hopes to hoist the trophy again Sunday.