Everyone else wanted to talk about revenge. Gophers coach Brad Frost wasn't interested in that angle, so he steered his team toward a different story line before Saturday's NCAA women's hockey regional final against Minnesota Duluth.
"The only thing I was able to try and communicate is, 'This is a game to try and get to the Frozen Four,''' Frost said. "We can't just show up and hope to win, or expect to win. We have to do extraordinary things.''
The No. 2 Gophers got their Frozen Four berth with a side helping of vengeance, defeating UMD 3-0 at Ridder Arena. Exactly 364 days after the Bulldogs upset the Gophers in last year's NCAA regional final, the Gophers turned the tables on the same ice. That earned them a trip to Duluth, where they will face Wisconsin in Friday's NCAA semifinals at Amsoil Arena.
A year ago, Frost said, UMD ran out the clock on the Gophers with superb defense. The Gophers (30-5-3) borrowed that strategy Saturday, augmenting Skylar Vetter's seventh shutout of the season with timely goals.
Madeline Wethington potted the only one the Gophers would need at 10 minutes, 39 seconds of the second period, scoring unassisted to crack the stalemate. Abbey Murphy and Catie Skaja added goals in the third period, while Vetter stopped all 30 shots she faced.
The seventh-ranked Bulldogs (26-10-3) fell short of their goal of playing for an NCAA title on home ice, losing to the Gophers for the fifth time in five games this season. The Gophers now have the chance to do something truly extraordinary: win their seventh NCAA championship.
"We needed to play our game, and focus on us,'' Wethington said. "That's what helped us get the job done.
"It was almost like a déjà vu moment. I was saying (Friday) we were in a similar situation (last year), and to come out with the win was fantastic.''
To write a different ending this time, the Gophers needed to play lockdown defense and find a way past UMD goaltender Emma Soderberg. The WCHA's goalie of the year had an NCAA-best 12 shutouts this season, including a 2-0 victory in Thursday's first-round game against Clarkson.
Soderberg held the Gophers at bay for half the game and ended with 27 saves. But the Bulldogs were unable to get past Vetter, who got outstanding support from her teammates. The Gophers blocked 11 shots, limited UMD's close-range chances and yielded few rebounds.
Neither team scored during a fast, physical and thrilling first period. Wethington got the Gophers on the board with an end-to-end rush, skating past multiple UMD players before putting a shot off the crossbar and behind Soderberg.
Murphy extended her goal streak to nine games with a gutsy effort at 3:22 of the third, fighting through UMD's defense and scoring on a sharp-angle shot past Soderberg's shoulder. Wethington set up the Gophers' final goal with a long pass that sprang Skaja for a breakaway goal at 10:18.
Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell mixed up her lines, shifted defenseman Ashton Bell to forward and pulled Soderberg with more than four minutes left. UMD outshot the Gophers 14-8 in the third period, but the Gophers' taut defense kept the shutout intact.
"We threw the kitchen sink at them,'' Crowell said. "Our kids played their hearts out and gave us everything they could.''
Last year, Frost recalled, the Gophers were asking themselves what happened at the end of a 2-1 loss in the regional final. Saturday, they had a better question: What can they accomplish in their first Frozen Four appearance since 2019?
"I'm thrilled for our team, and the opportunity to get back to the Frozen Four,'' Frost said. "It's been awhile.''