With their spot in the eight-team NCAA women's hockey tournament all but assured, the Gophers got the added boost Saturday of seeing one of the nation's best goal scorers return from injury.
Dani Cameranesi, who'd been out since mid-January with a lower body injury, played the whole game — creating chances into the second overtime — as the No. 5 Gophers and No. 2 Minnesota Duluth skated a marathon in the WCHA semifinals.
Even with Cameranesi, though, the Gophers still had the hardest time getting anything past UMD goalie Maddie Rooney.
The sophomore from Andover made 62 saves before Lara Stalder finally ended it with a disputed goal — reviewed for a possible high stick — which gave UMD a 2-1 triumph at Ridder Arena.
At 91 minutes and 29 seconds, it was the longest game in WCHA tournament history.
"I'm feeling great," Cameranesi said afterward. "I was actually joking that I missed too many games, so they wanted to throw two at me right away."
The Gophers (25-7-5) are still expected to receive an at-large NCAA berth when the field is announced Sunday at 8 p.m. In fact, most analysts predict they'll be heading to Duluth for next Saturday's quarterfinal.
UMD (25-5-5) snapped its 16-game winless streak at Ridder Arena and took a 3-2 lead against the Gophers in their season series.
Minnesota goalie Sidney Peters made 39 saves in a brilliant performance of her own. The game-winner looked like it might be overturned. Katerina Mrazova, who scored UMD's first goal in the second period, sent the puck to the front of Minnesota's net.
It hit Cameranesi's stick, changed directions, and twirled across the crease, where Stalder smacked it, like a batter hitting a knuckleball.
"I knew it wasn't higher than the cross bar right away," said Stalder, a Patty Kazmaier Award finalist with 32 goals.
The officials ruled it a goal on the ice and upheld it after a video review.
"To reverse the call on the ice, it has to be 100 percent that it wasn't a goal," said Greg Shepherd, the WCHA's supervisor of officials. "And watching the replay about 18 times, they came to the conclusion that the puck was below the cross bar, below 4 feet."
Gophers coach Brad Frost didn't seem too upset about the call. "If that gets waved off initially, then they go to review and it probably stays waved off," he said. "But because it was called a goal, there wasn't enough evidence to wave it off. It was a nice play."
Cameranesi has made some dazzling plays of her own. She was leading the nation with 18 goals in 17 games when she first got injured in early December. She returned for a mid-January series against UMD before having another setback.
Now she's back.
"What did she have, 14 shots?" Frost said. "Pretty good for not playing in two months."