DURHAM, N.H. – Brad Frost has witnessed enough NCAA championship celebrations to understand the dangers. The ninth-year Gophers coach considered warning players to be careful Sunday if they dogpiled in skates.
When time expired on the 3-1 victory over previously undefeated Boston College, it was too late. The Gophers threw helmets and gloves in the air, raced toward senior goaltender Amanda
Leveille and dived into a pile at Whittemore Center.
“All of a sudden, there was blood on everyone and on the trophy,” senior Hannah Brandt said.
“Someone said, ‘Hey, somebody’s bleeding!’ ” fellow captain Lee Stecklein said. “I looked down, and it was me.”
Stecklein needed two stitches in her right ring finger after the trophy ceremony. Brandt cut a finger, too. Apparently, that’s an occupational hazard when you play for a hockey dynasty.
The Gophers (35-4-1) have reached five consecutive NCAA title games, going 4-1 in those winner-take-all contests.
“They’re all different,” Frost said. “We’re just in the midst of a stretch here that’s pretty mind-blowing.”
A member of Boston College’s equipment crew still was muttering to himself 45 minutes after the game, saying he couldn’t believe what happened.
The Eagles (40-1) missed a chance to join the 2012-13 Gophers as the only Division I women’s hockey teams to finish a perfect season.
Boston College led the nation with an average of 5.30 goals per game, but Leveille stonewalled them with a signature performance, making 32 saves. The Gophers led 3-0 before the Eagles scored late in the third period.
“Un-be-lievable,” Stecklein said. “I think she proved she’s the best goalie in the country today. I’m so glad she went out on that note. We couldn’t have won without her.”
Boston College seniors Alex Carpenter (88 points) and Haley Skarupa (79 points) ranked first and third in the nation in scoring this season. The Gophers held both without a point.
The Eagles were known for their lightning-fast starts. In 26 games, they scored at least one goal within the first seven minutes. But the Gophers were the ones who scored the fastest goal in NCAA championship history, 13 seconds into the game.
Brandt, the Gophers’ all-time points leader (285), won a puck battle behind the net, passed to the slot, and Sarah Potomak buried it. Potomak, who was named national rookie of the year on Thursday, also scored the overtime winner in Friday’s semifinal against Wisconsin.
“We knew we needed a quick start like that,” Brandt said. “We also knew we had to calm down and keep pushing because you’re not going to win a game against a team like Boston College 1-0.”
It stayed that way through the second period, when the Gophers drew two penalties and had to kill off a 5-on-3 advantage.
There was no room to breathe until the third period, when Amanda Kessel scored her 11th goal in 13 games since returning from her concussion absence. It came on a slapshot past screened goalie Katie Burt with 11:29 remaining.
Kelly Pannek added an insurance goal less than five minutes later, and Leveille withstood Boston College’s final charge. An announced crowd of 3,211 at the University of New Hampshire’s 6,500-seat arena included many BC fans, but it was a quiet day.
The Eagles women never have won a national title, and their players had to watch as the Gophers celebrated their seventh, and NCAA-high sixth since the association began crowning a champion in 2001.
“Obviously, it was tough in the locker room,” Boston College coach Katie Crowley said. “I think my players are probably still sitting there in their uniforms. This was a special team.”
At least the Eagles escaped without any celebration injuries.
“I think a lot of people got little blood marks on them, but that’s fine,” said Brandt, who played in four NCAA title games for the Gophers, winning three. “That’s what happens when you throw your gloves and your helmets. We’ll take that any day over being on the other end.”