The celebration had become so customary, Brad Frost decided it was time to give it a twist.
The Gophers defeated Harvard 4-1 on Sunday to win their third NCAA women’s hockey title in four years, celebrating the triumph before an announced sellout crowd of 3,400 at Ridder Arena.
Players donned the celebratory T-shirts and hats, just as they had in 2012 and 2013, and then hoisted the trophy to raucous cheers.
This time, Frost figured, if basketball teams can cut down the nets after winning championships, why can’t hockey teams?
So the Gophers grabbed a scissors and cut apart the net that junior goaltender Amanda Leveille had helped protect with her second command performance of the Women’s Frozen Four.
“This is the first time we’ve cut the net,” Frost said, with a piece of white twine dangling from his hat like a bad comb over. “I don’t know if anybody has done it, but I was like, ‘Let’s start a tradition and see if it goes viral.’ ”
This was the Gophers’ sixth national title and fifth since the NCAA began crowning a champion in 2001. Harvard fell to 0-4 in NCAA title games, losing the championship to Minnesota just as it did in 2004 and 2005.
Harvard (27-6-3) had allowed only 17 goals in its previous 18 games, so the Gophers knew scoring would be tough.
Megan Wolfe gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead with less than a minute remaining in the first period, and the score stayed that way until midway through the third.
With about 12 minutes remaining, Hannah Brandt hopped over the boards, and Frost told her the time had come to get another goal. A Harvard turnover created a 2-on-1, and Maryanne Menefee slid the puck to Brandt, putting her all alone on goalie Emerance Maschmeyer.
Brandt switched the puck from her forehand to her backhand and flipped it into the net. Just like Frost instructed.
“He’ll probably try to take credit for it,” Brandt said, smiling. “We definitely needed that one there, and it was a nice play by Maryanne to get me the puck.”
Harvard trimmed it to 2-1 when Sarah Edney scored on a bad-angle shot from the corner with 4:54 remaining. The game never really seemed in doubt for the Gophers, who outshot Harvard 33-20, but for those few moments, the mood inside Ridder was tense. Then Minnesota’s second line made a play to electrify the building again.
Kelly Pannek had the puck near the left faceoff circle, and Harvard’s defense converged on her, as she passed to a wide open Meghan Lorence. It was a shot Lorence had practiced thousands of times, and she quickly uncorked a wrist shot into the upper-left corner of the net.
“I do have to say that was the biggest goal of my career by far,” Lorence said. “I don’t think there’s any way to describe the emotions.”
Lorence was one of the team’s four seniors. Another one, Rachael Bona, added an empty net goal with 1:48 remaining, starting Minnesota’s celebration.
The seniors combined to go 147-10-7 in Gophers uniforms. They helped compile an NCAA record 62-game winning streak, and were part of the 41-0 season two years ago.
After their third title, the seniors were asked if they were part of a dynasty.
“I don’t know if the players or the coaches want to say this is a dynasty,” said senior All-America Rachel Ramsey. “I will say that I think what we’ve done is incredibly special. Don’t know if it’ll happen again. And we’ll leave it up to you guys [in the media] to decide if it’s a dynasty or not.”
The only big game the seniors didn’t win in their tenure came in last year’s NCAA title game, when Clarkson stunned the Gophers with a 5-4 upset.
“I think last year we kind of came in too confident, thinking, ‘OK, we’re playing someone from out east. They’ve never won a national championship,’ ” Bona said. “I honestly thought today that we were the most ready we’ve ever been.”
Frost was ready, too. The idea to cut the net came to him before the game.
“You never want to think about it too deeply because the last thing you want is to watch somebody else cut the net for the first time,” he said, laughing. “The kids obviously have the big trophy and the banner, which is special. But why not take a little piece of the net with us to remember the year?”
At the rate Frost’s program is going, the Gophers could be making mincemeat of nets every March.