Are Gophers the best women’s hockey team ever? Maybe

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2013 - 7:00 AM

The Gophers women's hockey team is 26-0 and setting NCAA records every game. They may be the best team ever in their sport.

At the University of Minnesota, just a slap shot away from Mariucci Arena and Williams Arena, there's a team that operates in the shadows of the nation's No. 1-ranked men's hockey team and two basketball programs riding roller-coaster seasons.

Gophers women's hockey coach Brad Frost has called his team "the best-kept secret in town."

They're rarely on TV, they have trouble filling seats at Ridder Arena, and their star players can float anonymously through campus. But now, a red-hot season and an assault on the national record book have fueled talk that this could be the best team in women's hockey history.

During its NCAA-record 34-game winning streak, which began last February, Minnesota has trailed just twice. The first deficit lasted 39 seconds. The second one came Jan. 12 against North Dakota. That time -- gasp! -- it took 27 minutes for the Gophers to even the score, and it was still tied 1-1 after two periods.

"Honestly, we went into our coaches room after that period and were like, 'This is fantastic,'" Frost said. "We needed it. Last year, the season was full of adversity. And this year, we just haven't faced a ton of it."

The Gophers burst from their locker room and scored five third-period goals against UND, including two by the nation's leading scorer, Amanda Kessel. They haven't trailed since.

After winning their final eight games last year to claim their first NCAA title since 2005, the Gophers are 26-0 heading into Friday night's game against Minnesota Duluth at Ridder Arena.

Minnesota's home rink, which seats 3,400, will be the site of this year's WCHA's Final Face-off, along with the Frozen Four. So the Gophers could wind up playing all but four of their remaining games at home, and it's not hard to imagine them running the table.

It's happened in several other college sports. The Baylor women's basketball team went 40-0 last season. The Cornell men's hockey team skated to a 29-0 finish in 1970. But nobody has done it in women's hockey, which began crowning an NCAA champion in 2001.

"That would definitely be something special to go undefeated the whole year," Gophers goaltender Noora Raty said. "But if we lose one or two games and still win the national championship, it would be a perfect season for us."

One game at a time

Now in his 13th season with the program, and sixth as head coach, Frost said he learned long ago not to talk about national championships during a season. The focus, he said, always should be the next game.

"One of his lines is, 'You guys aren't that good yet,'" said Gophers freshman Hannah Brandt, whose 62 points rank second in the nation behind Kessel's 75.

That might be true in theory, but they've outscored their opponents 147-20, averaging 5.7 goals per game and allowing 0.8.

Kessel, whose brother Phil played one season for the Gophers before jumping to the NHL, has become a force as a junior and likely will represent Team USA in next year's Olympics.

"She's going to be one of the best players in the world," said Raty, who made her Olympic debut as Finland's starting goaltender at age 15 in 2006. "She's the fastest player I've ever seen."

The 5-6 Kessel is just glad she doesn't have to face Raty, who notched her 100th career victory last Sunday, matching an NCAA record.

"Noora steals games for us," Kessel said. "Whenever we need a big save, she's there for us and kind of holds us together."

Throw in hard-shooting senior captain Megan Bozek, a first-team All-America defenseman, and the Gophers have plenty of star talent. Bozek hails from Buffalo Grove, Ill., Kessel from Madison, Wis., and Raty from Espoo, Finland, but the roster features 12 Minnesotans, including three Ms. Minnesota Hockey Award winners in Brandt (Hill Murray), Bethany Brausen (Roseville) and Becky Kortum (Hopkins).

"I think their staff's doing a great job," said Harvard coach Katey Stone, who will coach Team USA at the 2014 Olympics. "They're attracting some tremendous talent, they're developing it, and they have some big-time players."

Stone's Harvard squad, which is 17-2-1, is among the teams that hope to dethrone Minnesota in the NCAA tourney.

One reason the Gophers shouldn't be overconfident is they haven't faced a team this year that's currently ranked higher than eighth. After Minnesota, the rest of top seven are six teams from the East -- Boston College, Harvard, Boston University, Cornell, Clarkson and Mercyhurst.

Best ever?

If the Gophers do indeed run the table, could they go down as the best women's college hockey team of all time?

"It's a fair question," said Natalie Darwitz, a three-time Olympian who was part of NCAA title teams for the Gophers in 2004 and 2005.

"If you're a numbers person, the numbers are there and speak for themselves. I do think it's hard to compare where they're at now versus past teams."

Either way, Darwitz said, what the Gophers are doing is great for the sport.

"The frustrating part," she said, "is it took a 34-game winning streak to start people talking about it."

The Big Ten Network will broadcast Saturday afternoon's game against UMD, but that's Minnesota's only scheduled telecast this season. Last year's NCAA title game wasn't televised and this year's finale, on March 24, won't be either.

Still, Frost has been pleased with his team's increased coverage of late.

"I just don't want them to get complacent and think that they've arrived just because they've had a great first half of the season," said Frost, whose team has eight regular-season games left.

"I've seen a lot of [Gophers] teams play really well in the first half and kind of fade in the second half."

This team is showing no signs of fading. In fact, the spotlight is starting to shine bright.

  • related content

  • Chart: The Gophers' perfect season so far

    Thursday January 31, 2013

    The Gophers women's hockey team won last year's NCAA championship, but this year's squad looks to be even more dominant and could stake a claim as the best team ever...

  • (left to right) Gophers Women's Hockey Head Coach Brad Frost, foward...

  • GOPHERS WOMEN VS. MINN. DULUTH

    6:07 p.m. today • Ridder Arena

    women's college hockey gophers vs. minnesota duluth • 6:07 p.m. today • ridder arena
  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Team Irvin 32 FINAL
Team Carter 28
Miami 96 FINAL
Chicago 84
Oklahoma City 98 FINAL
Cleveland 108
Dallas 106 FINAL
New Orleans 109
Indiana 106 FINAL
Orlando 99
LA Clippers 120 FINAL
Phoenix 100
Minnesota 100 FINAL
Atlanta 112
Detroit 110 FINAL
Toronto 114
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
San Antonio 101
Boston 111 FINAL
Golden State 114
Washington 117 FINAL
Denver 115
Houston 99 FINAL
LA Lakers 87
Team Toews 17 FINAL
Team Foligno 12
South Florida 53 FINAL
Connecticut 66
Boston College 64 FINAL
Georgia Tech 62
Virginia 50 FINAL
Virginia Tech 47
Indiana 70 FINAL
Ohio State 82
Stony Brook 61 FINAL
Binghamton 54
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
UCF 46
Maine 70 FINAL
Hartford 61
Monmouth 64 FINAL
Manhattan 71
Fairfield 67 FINAL
Marist 73
Rowan 48 FINAL
Princeton 96
St Bonaventure 48 FINAL
Rhode Island 53
Duke 77 FINAL
St Johns 68
Saint Peters 69 FINAL
Siena 55
Drake 40 FINAL
Wichita State 74
Vermont 61 FINAL
UMass Lowell 50
Seton Hall 57 FINAL
Butler 77
NJIT 72 FINAL
South Alabama 55
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Illinois State 53
Louisville 80 FINAL
Pittsburgh 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Albany 69
Niagara 64 FINAL
Iona 87
Notre Dame 81 FINAL
NC State 78
Belmont 63 FINAL
Tennessee St 55
Creighton 50 FINAL
Villanova 71
Northwestern 67 FINAL
Maryland 68
Washington 56 FINAL
Utah 77
Senior-North 34 FINAL
Senior-South 13
Seton Hall 99 FINAL
Georgetown 85
St Johns 69 FINAL
Villanova 81
Arkansas 58 FINAL
Florida 72
Maine 56 FINAL
UMBC 42
Vanderbilt 55 FINAL
Alabama 52
Lafayette 60 FINAL
Lehigh 65
UCF 61 FINAL
SMU 57
Utah 51 FINAL
Washington 63
James Madison 73 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 53
Delaware 56 FINAL
Drexel 61
Hofstra 56 FINAL
William & Mary 57
Hartford 58 FINAL
Albany 82
Binghamton 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Towson 63 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
Wake Forest 80 FINAL
(17) Florida State 110
Georgia Tech 68 FINAL
Virginia 62
(22) Georgia 51 FINAL
(5) Tennessee 59
Drake 79 FINAL
Evansville 62
Iona 80 FINAL
Canisius 62
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Monmouth 59
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Penn State 76
Wisconsin 71 FINAL
Michigan State 77
Ohio State 79 FINAL
Purdue 71
Northern Iowa 57 FINAL
Indiana State 55
Butler 58 FINAL
Xavier 54
Creighton 93 FINAL
Marquette 75
Providence 42 FINAL
DePaul 90
Northeastern 77 FINAL
Elon 80
(2) Connecticut 96 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Oregon 78 FINAL
Arizona 81
Bradley 46 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 45
NC State 49 FINAL
(23) Syracuse 66
(7) Maryland 84 FINAL
Indiana 74
Illinois State 35 FINAL
Missouri State 58
Colorado 68 FINAL
Washington St 73
Tulane 45 FINAL
South Florida 64
(14) Kentucky 83 FINAL
Missouri 69
(9) Oregon State 68 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 57
Vermont 63 FINAL
UMass Lowell 72
Iowa State 58 FINAL
(8) Texas 57
Southern Ill 61 FINAL
Wichita State 80
(15) Duke 74 FINAL
(12) North Carolina 67
Miami-Florida 55 FINAL
(4) Louisville 68
(21) Minnesota 61 FINAL
(25) Rutgers 66
California 72 FINAL
UCLA 57
(11) Stanford 71 FINAL
USC 60
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Do you favor the plan for expanded athletic facilities at the U of M?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close