By John Gilbert, for WCHA.com
DULUTH, MN. --- Noora Raty, Minnesota's junior goaltender who says she believes that the goalie should never allow a goal, continued her amazing season Saturday night by stopping all 28 Minnesota-Duluth shots and anchoring the Golden Gophers 2-0 victory in the Women's Final Faceoff championship game.
Raty, who shut out North Dakota 6-0 in Friday's semifinals, recorded her third straight shutout, and 26th for her three-year career by blanking the Bulldogs. It was Minnesota's first league playoff title since 2005, and boosts the Golden Gophers to 31-5-2, while UMD drops to 21-13-1.
Minnesota outshot UMD 35-28 for the game, and had its hands full trying to get anything past Jennifer Harss in the UMD goal. The Gophers finally scored when Emily West drew a penalty, then scored on the power play late in the second period. West, in fact, was involved in virtually everything that the Gopher offense could muster, including drawing a penalty shot, which she missed.
Raty took over in the third, holding the slim 1-0 lead until Megan Bozek scored into an empty net with six seconds remaining. West was even involved defensively at the finish, twice making key blocks of UMD blasts to help preserve the shutout.
"We're ecstatic to be champions of the WCHA tournament," said Minnesota coach Brad Frost. "It was a great hockey game; both teams laid it on the line. We played well tonight, and they played very well. After the game, Haley Irwin shook my hand and said, 'Brad, it's been a lot of fun playing against your team for four years.' I thought that was pretty special, and she's a special player.
"Our team played so hard, and this was good for us; we need to be in games like this, where we have to play through it. We've scored a lot of goals, but the strength of our team is our defense, which starts with Noora. And our seniors. We've got seven fantastic seniors, and each brings something special to the table."
UMD came out with the same fire displayed in the 3-1 upset of No. 1 ranked Wisconsin in the semifinals.
"I'm extremely proud of our team," said UMD coach Shannon Miller. "We had to empty our tank to beat the No. 1 team in the country yesterday, and today I wasn't sure if we had anything left in the tank. But we played great again. Minnesota is the fastest team in the country that we've seen, without a doubt. But it was such a close game that one team got a bounce, and one didn't."
The Gophers, known for their speed and depth, were predictably swift, but the Bulldogs traded rushes with them and even though play was aggressive on both sides, the officials let it go sufficiently to not interrupt the flow.
"We knew they were going to bring everything," said West. "We didn't get anything in the first, but we knew we had to keep going."
It was a goaltending duel, and both goalies were more than up to the challenge. Minnesota's Raty, working on her third straight shutout, stopped all 12 UMD shots, while also weathering the only power play of the first period, while UMD's Jennifer Harss blocked all 14 Golden Gopher shots. Raty's most anxious moment came when UMD's Jenna McParland came racing after a long clearing attempt, and she dashed out to narrowly direct it away.
"I saw it coming, and I started to go," Raty said. "Then I went, 'Go,' 'Don't go;' then 'Go!' "
A minute into the second period, West broke in at the UMD goal and was hauled down near the crease. Referees Jay Mendel and Robert Ludwig called for a penalty shot. West raced in on her opportunity, but Harss made a huge save to keep the game scoreless at 1:07.
"It's just like a breakaway," said Harss, ever calm even after the game. "I wanted to have her make the first move, and she did."
It could have been a deflating moment for the Gophers, but instead, they pressed their attack, and fired off the first seven shots of the middle period, then got a power play of their own, which UMD defused.
"I tried to fake a shot and pull it across," said West. "But she made a great save. But we knew you can't let that kind of thing get you down. Somebody on the bench said that it was OK because we were planning on scoring more than one goal anyhow."
With two minutes remaining in the second period, Minnesota got another power-play chance, when West -- who else? -- got tangled up with UMD freshman defenseman Tia Villila in the UMD zone. West went down, and Villila went to the penalty box. This time the Gophers capitalized. West, playing inside the right point, caught a pass from defenseman Rachel Ramsey, and moved to the slot before firing a 30-footer that caught Harss completely screened, at 19:16. "I didn't see anything on the goal," said Harss.
UMD came back for what might have been its best chance of the period in the closing seconds, but just as Audrey Cournoyer fed ahead to Jenna McParland, the horn sounded before McParland could shoot, and the 1-0 Minnesota lead carried over to the third period.
Raty came up with a big save on a shot from the right point, and snatched the rebound from wide to the left with her glove to open the third period, and as UMD turned up its offensive pressure, she made a diving save to cover a bouncing shot from Haley Irwin in the slot.
As the game boiled along into its closing minutes, UMD coach Shannon Miller took a time out and pulled Harss for a sixth attacker. The Bulldogs gave it a strong finish, and the Gophers weathered it all, thanks to Raty.
First Jennifer Wong moved in from the point and fired, and Raty deflected the shot just wide to the right. UMD kept the puck in the Gopher zone, and West, for all her offensive input, dropped to her knees to block another Wong blast from the left point. Wong regained possession and fed to the slot, where Irwin cut loose, but Raty made that save, too, with 24.2 seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs final hope dissolved when Megan Bozek broke out of the Gophers zone and carried up the left side. She shot for the open net, missed, but retrieved the rebound and tucked in the clincher at 19:54.
Raty was named all-tournament goalie and most valuable player, and was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates West, Sarah Davis, and defenseman Anne Schleper, plus UMD center Haley Irwin and defenseman Bridgette Lacquette.
"One of our seniors told a freshman that when you win a championship like this, you think it's supposed to happen. But it doesn't," said Frost. "It's been seven long years since the Gophers won the league playoffs, so I told the players to enjoy the moment."