Senior forward Sarah Erickson nets two goals for Golden Gophers

Sarah Erickson celebrates her first of two goals for the Gophers

DULUTH, Minn. - Minnesota calls itself the "State of Hockey". Once again the championship trophy for women's collegiate hockey resides there.

Senior forward Sarah Erickson scored two goals and junior goalie Noora Raty made 42 saves, including 20 in the final period, to lead Minnesota to its third women's national championship with a 4-2 victory over defending champion Wisconsin in the high octane championship game of the National Collegiate Athletic Association hockey tournament at AMSOIL Arena.

It is the first national championship since 2005 for the Gophers, who also won the WCHA playoff championship at AMSOIL two weeks ago, and it marks the 12th straight season the Western Collegiate Hockey Association has produced the best team in women's college hockey.

"I knew this team was a special group when we built it," said Coach Brad Frost won his first national title as head coach after serving as an assistant the first times Minnesota won the crown.

The wide-open battle between Big Ten rivals was a wide open affair at the start, matching the two top seeds in the tournament. This was the first time since 2006 - when Wisconsin won its first national championship with a 3-0 victory over Minnesota - that the national title game was a Border Battle. It started with a furious pace, All-American Amanda Kessel, a Madison, Wis. native, gave the Gophers the early lead 8:45 into the game with her 32nd goal of the season against her hometown team. Kessel's brother Phil also played at Minnesota, but didn't win a championship in his one year in college before becoming an National Hockey League all-star with Toronto. Amanda said her parents told her "you can now do something your brother never did."

Erickson made it 2-0 just 2:38 later with the first of her goals and the Gophers were rolling. However, the Gophers took three straight penalties and allowed Wisconsin back in the game.

Stefanie McKeough, the WCHA defensive player of the year, cut the lead with a power play goal, a left point drive which hit traffic and caromed past goalie Raty, at 14:03. Brooke Ammerman tied the game 100 seconds later with her 34th goal of the year.

The Badgers seemingly had momentum and then had a two-man advantage, but the Gophers killed off the first penalty and Emily West broke in on a lone break while killing the second penalty. Even though West failed to score, she was tripped by UW's Brittany Haverstock and referee Robert Ludwig called a penalty shot. West beat UW goalie Alex Rigsby with a nifty move and the Gophers regained the lead with 1:32 left in the period. It was the 27th goal of the season for West, a senior.

The goalies took over in the second period. Raty made 14 of her saves in the middle period, including a spectacular glove save on Carolyne Prevost who thought she had scored on a rebound after Raty stopped Patty Kazmaier Award winner Briana Decker's break with 3:13 left in the second session. Decker, the country's leading goal scorer, was held without a point by the Gophers, who had the best defense in the country.

"Noora has been on a run during the last month that has been as good as any goaltender has been on," said Frost of Raty, who has given up five goals in the post-season.

Rigsby, who finished with 21 saves, made a similar great stop on a shorthanded breakaway by Sarah Davis in the final minute of the scoreless period.

It wasn't until Erickson scored her 20th goal of the season, at 3:57 of the final period, that the many Gophers fans in the crowd of 2,439 started thinking Minnesota may dethrone the Badgers, the defending champs who have also won the last two WCHA regular seasons titles.

The Gophers went through some tough times to get to that point. Freshman Stephanie Anderson's 24-year-old sister, Nicole, died unexpectedly early in the season, and team wore "NA" on their helmets to remember her during the tournament. Just two weeks ago, during the WCHA FINAL FACE-OFF, Frost's father had emergency brain surgery.

"When I looked up and saw there were three seconds left, tears just came to my eyes," Frost said. "Adversity can bring you together. It doesn't always, but it can."

The Badgers hardly went down without a fight. They fired 12 shots at Raty in the final six minutes, including a half dozen on a power play, which came with 2:55 left in the third period and a time when Coach Mark Johnson pulled Rigsby for another attacker to set up a six-on-four skater advantage.

"It was a tough pill to swallow," Johnson said. "We made some mistakes. We needed a break, needed a bounce at some point. We didn't get it. They just did a little bit more than we did. We had opportunities. We didn't capitalize when we needed to."

The Gophers finished the season with a 34-5-2 record. They have previously won NCAA titles in 2004 and 2005 and also won the AWCHA national championship in 2000 when the NCAA did not sanction the women's sport. This is the first national title that the Gophers have won under Frost and it served as a going-away gift for retiring athletic director Joel Maturi, a long-time supporter of the Gopher women's program.

The Badgers finish the season 33-5-2 and made an appearance in the title game for the sixth time in the last seven years. UW won national titles in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011 and was also a runnerup to Minnesota Duluth in 2008. UMD has won the most NCAA titles - five.

"This is definitely one of the best hockey games I have been a part of," said Ammerman. "The speed was at a whole another level."

The all-tournament team consisted of Raty, who was named the tournament's most outstanding player, defender Megan Bozek of Minnesota and forwards Kessel, Erickson, Ammerman and Prevost.


Video Highlights at NCAA.com (Click here)

Amanda Kessel gives Minnesota a 1-0 lead
Brooke Ammerman ties the game at 2-2 for Wisconsin

Wisconsin fans celebrate Ammerman's goal

Emily West draws a penalty shot for the Gophers ...

... and then scores on the penalty shot to make it a 3-2 game

Noora Raty makes a tremendous save in the second period

Sarah Erickson picks up here second goal of the game

The Minnesota coaching staff savors the victory

The Golden Gophers hit the ice to celebrate the school's third National Championship

The 2012 NCAA Division I Women's Ice Hockey National Champion Minnesota Golden Gophers