Minnesota has been near the top of the national rankings all season, but ironically enough, it was a 2-1 loss to Bemidji State on Oct. 29 that changed the course of the season.
On the bus ride home, Gophers team leaders addressed the team about funneling its talent and establishing a team-first culture.
The squad hasn't looked back since.
No. 2 Minnesota (32-5-2) pummeled North Dakota 5-1 to clinch a berth next weekend's Frozen Four in Duluth, Minn., where just last weekend it captured its first WCHA Tournament title since 2005.
"We have skill on the ice, and when you combine that with a good rapport in the locker room, I don't think many teams can stick with you," team captain Sarah Erickson said.
UND (22-12-3) sure couldn't. Five different Gophers scored a goal and goaltender Noora Räty was sensational yet again in saving 28 shots.
"I have a lot of confidence, for me and for my team," Räty said, "and they are playing well and making my job pretty easy."
Räty's attempt at a fourth-straight shutout was foiled by Michelle Karvinen's 5-on-3 goal in the third period, but the scoring play was inconsequential to the game's result. Her shutout streak lasted 246 minuetes, 53 seconds.
Emily West's early score was the only goal in a sloppy first period.
West put Minnesota up 1-0 when she slid one past UND goaltender Stephanie Ney from just inside the blue line 1:28 into the game. Ney was pulled in favor of Jorid Nagfinrud 91 seconds later.
"Another goal is to always score first, especially at home," Gophers head coach Brad Frost said. "I felt our kids were able to breathe a little bit more after that went in."
Both clubs narrowly missed out on viable scoring opportunities and neither team established any type of rhythm. Minnesota's Amanda Kessel and Sarah Davis had shots turned away on breakaway opportunities and Räty made several impressive saves to keep UND off the scoreboard.
As a result, the 1-0 score stood through the first intermission. But the Gophers' dominance began as the second period did.
Davis doubled the Gophers' lead just 3:44 into the frame. Nagfinrud stoned Davis' initial shot, but Erickson found the rebound, fired a wrister from the top of the circle, and Davis deflected it in for the score.
Kessel extended the lead at 10:06 with a highlight-reel shorthanded goal.
After stealing the puck UND's zone, she skated towards a breakaway while fending off illegal hooking by North Dakota star Jocelyne Lamoureux. Seemingly unfazed, Kessel gathered herself in front of the blue line and blistered a snipe past Nagfinrud.
"I saw her off her angle a little bit and I just found the spot," Kessel said. "I was happy to make up for the missed breakaway [earlier]."
Erickson put the game out of reach at 16:40 when she hammered home a feed from Kessel to extend the lead to 4-0.
Jen Schoullis tacked on a goal 3:40 into the final stanza, and aside from the 5-on-3 goal, Minnesota coasted for the remainder of the game.
The Gophers will tangle with Cornell on Friday for a spot in the national championship game. The Big Red, the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, outlasted Boston University 8-7 in a triple-overtime thriller to earn its trip to Duluth.
"We don't know much about them, and they don't know much about us," Erickson said. "It'll be a pretty competitive-natured game, and that's what the Frozen Four is all about."
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