After the first five minutes of Minnesota’s NCAA tournament quarterfinal tilt against Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) on Saturday, it looked like the Gophers would coast into the Frozen Four after tallying two quick goals.
But while Minnesota maintained its lead the rest of the game and ended up winning 6-2, this contest was like nothing head coach Brad Frost had ever been a part of.
Just under a minute after sophomore Kate Schipper scored the Gophers second goal of the first period, freshman Kelly Pannek received a game misconduct for checking from behind and was consequently ejected from the game.
Then, as the final seconds of the period ticked off the clock, Gophers captain Meghan Lorence also received a game misconduct, this time for butt-ending, and she too was sent to the showers.
“[Game misconducts] don’t happen too often, especially two in one game,” Frost said. “It was chippy early on…it really brought our team together and they knew that they would have to work that much harder to get it done.”
The hectic first period finished with the Gophers holding a convincing 3-1 lead, but also saw eight penalties on top of the two ejections.
Having to play the rest of the game without Pannek and Lorence left Frost in a peculiar situation. With two of his key contributors on special teams out of the picture, the eighth year coach was forced to shuffle his lineup and shorten up shift lengths in order to conserve energy on a suddenly shortened bench.
“It was hard, our kids after the first and then the second periods were gassed,” Frost said. “But the kids found a way and gutted it out and I’m really proud of them.”
The lineup changes didn’t prevent Minnesota from extending its lead however.
After having to kill off five penalty minutes at the beginning of the second period as a result of Lorence’s ejection, the Gophers went on a power play of their own which resulted in a goal from junior Maryanne Menefee.
Although Menefee received credit for the goal, the opportunity would not have presented itself had it not been for some textbook passing by the Gophers, including one from Schipper.
“[Schipper] was awesome today,” Frost said. “She did a great job on the penalty kill, [and] that goal in the first was huge. And then on the power play, to go in where Kelly Pannek normally is and to make that pass to Maryanne like she did was awesome. I thought she played one of her best games in a Gopher jersey.”
Except for a four minute portion of the first period where the Gophers were only up 2-1, Minnesota was never truly challenged by RIT who made its NCAA tournament debut less than three years after making the jump from Division III to Division I hockey.
“We come from a school that people didn’t really know,” RIT captain Celeste Brown said. “A couple of years down the road we will look back and [realize] how truly amazing it is to be where we are.”
Now, the Gophers will shift their focus to making the most out of the program’s eleventh Frozen Four appearance, starting with a semifinal matchup with bitter rival Wisconsin.
Minnesota swept the Badgers during the team’s four regular season meetings, winning one game in a shootout. However, Wisconsin was able to take home the WCHA Final Face-Off title last weekend after breezing past a Bemidji State team that upset the Gophers a day earlier.
“It’s always fun to play Wisconsin. We play great against them and they play great against us,” senior captain Rachel Ramsey, who had a goal and an assist Saturday, said. “It’s personally my favorite rivalry and in my opinion [those games] are the best example of women’s college hockey that there is.”