Captain Kelly Pannek scored the go-ahead goal in the third period and later kept the puck out of the Gophers’ net in their 5-2 victory over Princeton in an NCAA women’s hockey quarterfinal Saturday at Ridder Arena.

“I’m so happy that we’re heading to the Frozen Four,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “This is a team that has earned it, they deserve it, but you don’t always get the opportunity just because you deserve to go.

“Our depth was able to wear Princeton down tonight, and it’s a really, really special group.”

Minnesota will play Cornell in the national semifinals on Friday at Quinnipiac’s High Points Solutions Arena in Hamden, Conn. It will be Minnesota’s seventh trip to the Frozen Four in eight years after losing to Wisconsin last season in the first round.

No. 1 seed Wisconsin beat Syracuse 4-0 in its quarterfinal. The Badgers will play Clarkson in the other semifinal Friday.

Pannek broke a 2-all tie against Princeton when she deflected a pass from linemate Sarah Potomak with 8 minutes, 13 seconds left in the third period.

“It wasn’t the prettiest goal that me and Sarah ever had,” Pannek said, “but just stopping in front, making it messy, that’s something that our coach has been preaching.”

A scrum in front of the net late in the game almost spelled disaster for the No. 2-ranked Gophers (31-5-1) as they clung to a 3-2 lead, weathering an attack from six Princeton skaters. A Princeton forward spun around and was ready to bury the puck into the open net, but Pannek got a stick on it and sent it into the boards.

Potomak scored an empty-net goal with 1:06 for insurance. Gophers forward Nicole Schammel then scored another empty-net goal with 14 seconds left for the final margin.

Minnesota’s second line of sisters Sarah and Amy Potomak, and Pannek — or the “two Pots and a Pan” line — accounted for four of the Gophers’ five goals and five assists.

“It’s been a tough year for all three of us. I think coming back from an Olympic year you don’t really realize how tough it is,” Sarah Potomak said, “but I’m just so proud of all of our growth that we’ve went through this year, and we’re getting hot at the right time.”

Pannek played for the gold medal-winning U.S. team last season while both Potomaks took the year off to try to make Canada’s Olympic team but were late cuts.

“We got that first kind of lucky goal, and after that it was Minnesota’s game,” said forward Stephanie Sucharda of Princeton, which finishes 20-8-5.

Sarah Fillier had both goals for the Tigers.


Jack Warrick is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune