To cheers, U women's hockey closing in on perfection

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 22, 2013 - 12:06 PM

Led by three of the nation’s best players, the Gophers have taken their loyalists and growing bandwagon on an extraordinary ride.

A perfect Gophers hockey season and an invitation to this weekend’s Women’s Frozen Four hung in suspense through three overtimes last Saturday, long enough that the man known affectionately as “Crazy Dave” finally had to sit down.

David Malerich has been to nearly every Gophers home game for 16 years, spending most of that time on his feet, cheering. But as he said, “The players weren’t the only ones exhausted.”

John Munson, who played bass guitar for the band Semisonic, couldn’t make the game at Ridder Arena but was glued to his phone, waiting for text updates from his wife. He heaved a sigh of relief when the Gophers finally prevailed over North Dakota 3-2 in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Led by three of the nation’s best players ­— Noora Raty, Amanda Kessel and Megan Bozek — the Gophers have taken their loyalists and growing bandwagon on an extraordinary ride. They are 39-0, with a 47-game winning streak dating to last season, heading into Friday’s 5 p.m. NCAA semifinal against Boston College at the U of M’s Ridder Arena.

Boston University plays Mercyhurst in the other semifinal, and the winners advance to Sunday’s title game.

The Gophers have a chance to become the first Division 1 women’s hockey team to finish a season undefeated. No men’s hockey team has done it since Cornell went 29-0 in 1970.

“I’m also a Gophers basketball die-hard, and their season has been so dismaying for longtime fans,” Munson said. “The women’s hockey team truly feels like the antidote I need so I don’t feel so bad.”

Fans flock despite challenges

It’s still an unsung story. While almost all the Gophers men’s hockey games are televised, only one women’s game has been on TV this season. Minnesota could make history this weekend, but the Women’s Frozen Four won’t be televised.

The Gophers’ success has driven an attendance spike. They averaged 932 fans at their first eight home games, then 2,375 fans over their next 13. Both Frozen Four sessions at the 3,400-seat Ridder Arena were sold out even before Saturday’s three-overtime scare in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Over the years, Gophers coach Brad Frost has called his program the best-kept secret in town. But he said several people have told him they were there Saturday and now plan to buy season tickets.

“I think that secret is getting out,” he said.

Win or lose this weekend, the Gophers know they’ll have at least one celebration. The winner of this year’s Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the nation’s top player, will be announced Saturday morning. All three finalists are Gophers — Kessel, Raty and Bozek.

Kessel is the NCAA’s leading scorer, with 44 goals and 53 assists. Raty leads the nation with a 0.88 goals against average. And Bozek is the nation’s second leading scoring defenseman, with 20 goals and 35 assists.

Those three were instrumental last year, when the Gophers won their first national championship since 2005. This year, they’ve helped Minnesota rewrite the NCAA record book. In women’s hockey, the previous longest unbeaten streak was Wisconsin’s 32-gamer, which ended in 2011.

Along for the ride

“Even though [the Gophers] won the national championship last year, absolutely nobody saw this coming,” said Malerich, who has been to 37 of the 47 games during the winning streak, including road trips to Minnesota Duluth, Ohio State and New Hampshire.

Malerich, 38, works as a data analyst at Best Buy’s corporate headquarters. He started attending women’s games in 1997, during the program’s inaugural season, when one of his high school classmates from Buffalo, Julie Otto, was a team captain.

Malerich has been a fixture at the team’s home games ever since.

“At least initially, it was strictly financial,” Malerich said. “I still love going to the men’s games, but why spend $25 to $30 to see a college hockey game, when you can see one that’s just about as good for $8.”

Malerich got the nickname “Crazy Dave” from the father of former Gopher Dagney Willey and later had it embroidered on a sweatshirt.

These days, Malerich wears a blue Finland scarf to games, honoring the team’s two Finnish players — Raty and Mira Jalosuo. The scarf was a gift from Raty’s father, who has been in town from Finland this month.

“The smallest thing we could do is give something back, even if it’s just a scarf, or say hi or chat a little bit,” Noora Raty said. “Those fans do so much for us. It almost feels like they could be part of the team.”

Freshman Hannah Brandt remembers feeling that same connection when she started attending Gophers games in elementary school. Now she’s the team’s second leading scorer behind Kessel, with 31 goals and 49 assists.

“[The players] were always signing autographs after the games and high-fiving us when they came out, so I make sure to do the same,” Brandt said. “I know how much it means to the little kids.”

Munson, 46, has two daughters, ages 5 and 10, who started playing hockey last year. He took them to a game, and the family was instantly hooked. He frequently tweets the team’s praises (@Munsongs) and mentions their success whenever he guest hosts on FM-89.3 The Current.

“To me, it’s a story of historic importance,” Munson said. “This may be the best women’s team there’s ever been.”

With two more wins, the Gophers can make it official.





 

  • related content

  • Video: Undefeated Gophers aim for history books

    Thursday March 21, 2013

    Riding a 47-game winning streak and aiming for an undefeated season, the Gophers women's hockey team enters the NCAA...

  • Here's why the Gophers women's hockey team has been so dominant

    Thursday March 21, 2013

    Here are five reasons why the Gophers have been dominant this season.

  • Women's Frozen Four won't be on TV

    Sunday March 24, 2013

    The Gophers women’s hockey team could make history this weekend at the Women’s Frozen Four, but the event won’t be...

  • Preview: Women's Frozen Four semifinals

    Friday March 22, 2013

    ncaa semifinalsGophers vs. Boston College, 5 P.M. mercyhurst vs. boston university 8 p.m. ridder ARENA • sold out Video stream...

  • Gophers women's hockey players celebrate a goal, which turned out to be disallowed, during Saturday's WCHA Final Faceoff victory over North Dakota. The Gophers won 2-0 and the teams play again Saturday in the NCAA quarterfinals.

  • The Gophers women huddled in celebration after defeating the University of North Dakota and advancing to the Frozen Four this weekend at Ridder Arena.

  • Super fan David Malerich cheered on his Gophers as they took the ice last week. Malerich has been to nearly every Gophers home game for 16 years.

  • WOMEN’S FROZEN FOUR

    Semifinals: Gophers vs. Boston College, 5 p.m. Friday;

    Boston University vs. Mercyhurst, 8 p.m. Friday.

    Title game: Semifinal winners at 3 p.m. Sunday.

    All games at Ridder Arena, U of M. All sessions are sold out.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 7 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 1
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Houston 85 FINAL
Miami 90
Indiana 89 FINAL
Minnesota 107
Utah 105 FINAL
Oklahoma City 91
Portland 93 FINAL
Denver 75
Phoenix 114 FINAL
LA Lakers 108
LA Clippers 107 FINAL
Golden State 125
San Jose 3 FINAL
Boston 5
NY Rangers 4 FINAL(OT)
New Jersey 3
Toronto 5 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Detroit 1 FINAL(OT)
Montreal 2
Arizona 3 FINAL(SO)
Nashville 4
Carolina 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 3
Philadelphia 0 FINAL
Chicago 4
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Dallas 6
Florida 4 FINAL(OT)
Colorado 3
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL(OT)
Calgary 1
Arkansas State 40 FINAL
Louisiana 55
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close