The women's hockey machine that is coach Brad Frost's Gophers was looking to increase an NCAA-record winning streak to 36 games on Saturday afternoon at Ridder Arena. To accomplish this, Frost sent out a lineup that included 10 Minnesotans and nine players from other states, Canada or Europe.
This made Frost almost Doug Woog-like in his devotion to home-state players in comparison to Minnesota Duluth, which had three Minnesotans among the 19 players participating. That was only thrice as many as the number of skaters that coach Shannon Miller was using from Australia.
The NCAA started crowning women's hockey champions in 2001. Minnesota Duluth won the first three titles. There are only three schools with official NCAA titles: UMD (five), Wisconsin (four) and the defending champion Gophers (three).
UMD's success was tied strongly to Miller's ability to grab an early corner on European talent.
Noora Raty was another European prize looking at U.S. colleges for the fall of 2009. She had been the regular goalie on the Finnish Olympic team as a 16-year-old in 2006 and would fill that role again in 2010.
"I visited three schools -- UMD, Ohio State and Minnesota," Raty said. "I had many players I knew from Finland telling me, 'You have to go to Duluth.' I would say, 'Stand back and let me make my own decision.' "
Raty and her friend Mira Jalosuo, a defenseman, became the first Europeans to play for the Gophers. Last March 1, Raty happened to be in Duluth, attending a WCHA awards dinner in advance of the league's playoff semifinals and final.
The first-team goalie was Bemidji State's Zuzana Tomcikova. The second-team goalie was Wisconsin's Alex Rigsby. The third-team goalie was Raty.
"I remember after that awards ceremony," Raty said earlier. "I had that award sitting in my hand, and I told our [assistant] coach Nadine Muzerall, 'OK, we'll see this weekend who deserves to be first- or second-team goalie.'"
Frost agreed that the third-team designation was a late-season turning point for Raty in 2012. "Noora had a good, not great regular season, but I think that really ticked her off," the coach said.
The Gophers haven't lost since. They finished 2011-12 with eight wins in a row, including 4-2 over top-seeded Wisconsin in the NCAA title game. Raty had 42 saves and was the MVP of the Frozen Four.
Raty and the Gophers' domination has become preposterous this winter. They went to 28-0 with a 6-2 victory over UMD on Saturday. The four-game sweep of the Bulldogs in the regular season was a first for the Gophers.
The only upset was that Raty allowed two goals. It was only the sixth time in 26 starts that she has allowed multiple goals -- two goals four times and three goals twice.
A reporter suggested to Raty in a postgame interview that she was probably upset allowing two goals -- including a shorthander that briefly tied the score 2-2 early in the third.
"Not really upset; I'm happy when we get the win," Raty said. "After we won the conference [WCHA regular season] last night, some people probably wondered how we were going to play. We showed again that we are really good."
Amanda Kessel, the junior kid sister of Phil Kessel, scored her 37th goal to break the 2-2 tie and trigger a winning, three-goal burst in 105 seconds. It works to the advantage of both Kessel and Raty to face one another, shootout-style, in practices.
"I get upset when she scores, and she gets upset when I stop her," Raty said. "I keep saying to people that, in a few years, Amanda Kessel is going to be best player in the world."
OK, but how about the Finnish lad -- Mikael Granlund -- who came to us with much advance notice and struggled mightily in his first eight games with the Wild?
"He's a rookie in the NHL," Raty said. "It's the best league in the world, so he has to move a little faster and get stronger to keep up. A year from now, he'll be good and everyone will love him.
"He's probably the most popular athlete in Finland ... definitely the most popular with the teenage girls. He's every young girl's dream in Finland."
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • firstname.lastname@example.org