Gophers’ winning streak survives unlikely scare
The Gophers wanted adversity, and they got it this weekend from an unlikely source: Bemidji State.
Minnesota extended its NCAA-record winning streak to 40 games with two wins at Ridder Arena against the Beavers, the last-place team in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The top-ranked Gophers (32-0-0) clinched the WCHA regular-season title two weeks ago, but after beating Bemidji State 8-0 Friday, looked as vulnerable as they have all season Saturday in a 3-2 overtime win.
Senior Mira Jalosuo scored the game-winning goal with less than two minutes left in overtime. The Gophers had not led until that point.
It was Minnesota’s first overtime game and first one-goal win of the season.
“We want to create as much adversity as we can for our team,” head coach Brad Frost said. “All those things are good for us as we keep going forward to the ultimate prize.”
That prize is a second consecutive national championship, which Minnesota is the overwhelming favorite to claim. Not only are the Gophers the most talented team in the country, but they’ve shown they can conquer adversity.
Even if they don’t face it often.
Minnesota has trailed in five games this season. Saturday’s game marked the second time it has trailed more than once in a game.
The Gophers responded to both of their deficits Saturday by tying the game less than three minutes later.
“It’s not that big of a deal to be down by one goal,” Jalosuo said, “because our offense is so good that we will easily score like five goals per game, and [goalie] Noora [Räty] doesn’t let more than two goals in.”
Räty has allowed two goals or fewer in 27 of 30 games this season, and she leads the WCHA with a 1.02 goals-against average.
But Bemidji State’s goaltender Jessica Havel stole the show Saturday. She had 41 saves to Räty’s 12 and stood her ground behind a Beavers defense that blocked dozens of shots, many of which came in rapid succession.
Minnesota outshot Bemidji State 19-3 in the third period, when each team scored an early goal. Sophomore Rachel Ramsey’s game-tying goal at the 4:22 mark came 90 seconds after the Beavers took their second lead of the game.
Like the Gophers, the Beavers played their best after allowing a goal, which prevented Minnesota from pulling away like it’s done against many teams this season.
“We had a lot of good scoring chances in the third period, but we just didn’t get one in,” Jalosuo said. “That makes things a little bit more complicated.”
Junior and national scoring leader Amanda Kessel scored the Gophers’ first goal with five minutes left in the second period.
Kessel had two goals and an assist in Friday’s rout, which the Gophers led 4-0 after one period.
Frost said goaltending was the difference between the two games, but he said the Gophers had more jump Friday and didn’t play up to their standards Saturday.
Senior captain Megan Bozek said the Gophers’ quick start Friday — they scored two goals in the first 1:07 — made the difference. Minnesota has the firepower to dominate games from start to finish, but it has struggled lately in the first and second periods.
“We’re going to be down games,” Bozek said. “We’re going to be in a little bit of a slump and not playing Gopher hockey for the full 60 minutes.”
Bozek and her teammates have used “Gopher hockey” to describe Minnesota’s ideal style of play — fast-paced, high-scoring and energetic.
When Minnesota hasn’t played that way, it has still found ways to win — and rarely has it needed overtime to do it.
“I think there’s always doubt,” Frost said about winning close games. “But I think that’s when our team started to play their best [Saturday] — when they just went out and played.”
- Megan Ryan contributed to this report.