ST. CHARLES, MO. – After years of indignation from Gophers fans that the NCAA women's hockey championship wasn't televised, even on their endless list of cable channels, Sunday's title game will air live on Big Ten Network.
Alas, for the first time in six years, Minnesota won't be part of it, having lost to Clarkson 4-3 on Friday in the Women's Frozen Four semifinals.
So while BTN airs the showdown between No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 2 Clarkson, Gophers coach Brad Frost will be retooling, with sights set on getting Minnesota right back on top next year.
Frost's Gophers have won four of the past five NCAA titles, and he should have another strong contender next season, when the Women's Frozen Four returns to Ridder Arena.
This season's senior class includes defenseman Lee Stecklein and forward Dani Cameranesi, who've combined for five first-team All-WCHA honors. Other key departing seniors include stating defenseman Megan Wolfe and second-line winger Kate Schipper.
"It's going to be hard to lose those guys," Frost said. "With a program like ours, and other top teams, we're losing great players every year. It's our job as coaches to bring some great ones in and develop the ones we have, so we'll be OK."
Frost has another loaded recruiting class. Next season's incoming freshmen include six players who have competed in the U-18 World Championship: Grace Zumwinkle (Breck), Taylor Wente (Maple Grove), Emily Brown (Blaine), Alex Gulstene (Vancouver, B.C.), Amy Potomak (Aldergrove, B.C.) and Olivia Knowles (Campbell River, B.C.).
Zumwinkle was named Minnesota Ms. Hockey and features an 80-miles-per-hour slapshot that has dented a goalie mask. Gulstene is a highly touted goaltender, and Potomak is the uber-talented younger sister of current Gophers sophomore Sarah Potomak.
With the 2018 Winter Olympics looming, it's possible both Potomak sisters could miss the next college season to prepare for them with Team Canada. The same goes for Gophers center Kelly Pannek, who leads the nation with 62 points, and is on the 23-player U.S. roster for the upcoming world championships.
Goalie was a big question entering this season, but junior Sidney Peters stepped in admirably. She was brilliant in the Gophers' 1-0 victory at Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA quarterfinals before giving up four goals against Clarkson.
"We could have done a little better job in front of her; we didn't help her out too much," Pannek said. "But I think as the season's gone on, she's just grown in confidence. She's one of the hardest workers on our team."
The Gophers got hit hard by injuries this season, and they found themselves on the bubble for the eight-team NCAA tournament. Cameranesi's return from ankle surgery made them more potent down the stretch. They finished 26-8-5, but their eight losses were the most in six years.
Next season, they'll welcome back Alex Woken, a promising freshman forward lost to a season-ending lower-body injury in November.
Added together, the Gophers should be in prime position for another title run. Tickets usually sell out weeks in advance whenever the Women's Frozen Four is held at 3,400-seat Ridder Arena. Gov. Mark Dayton has made his displeasure known on Facebook, when the event hasn't been televised.
Friday's NCAA semifinals weren't televised again. Next year, BTN is scheduled to air the championship game, along with both semifinals. It's another sign of progress for the sport the Gophers are helping to grow, even in the rare year when they're not playing on Championship Sunday.