By John Gilbert, for WCHA.com
MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. --- Minnesota finished a women's hockey season that coach Brad Frost said was surreal. Not just surreal, but "very surreal." The Golden Gophers put down a very dangerous Boston University outfit 6-3 Sunday afternoon before a sellout crowd of 3,400 at Ridder Arena to win their second NCAA championship in a row, and to complete the first undefeated, untied season in women's college hockey history.
So dominant was Minnesota all season that the debate has already started about whether this is the greatest women's team ever, and that's one that could go into the night with valid points in favor, and with some about how much more competitive the top teams in the WCHA were a decade ago when Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Wisconsin beat each other up. But nobody can argue with that one fact: a 41-0 record will go into the books as a record that won't ever be broken, and is extremely unlikely to even approach being duplicated.
"You just saw a record-breaking team play another great team," said Boston University coach Brian Durocher, whose team finished 28-6-3. "Nobody's ever gone 41-0 before, and I tip my cap to them for what they've accomplished. But I was proud of our team too. The shot count didn't get away, and the territorial didn't get away. I love everything about our team. They were down 2-0, 3-1, 4-1, and they never quit. They fight to the end."
One of the reasons the Terriers were dangerous to the end was that the Gophers had actually looked beatable in their two previous games -- a 3-2 triple-overtime marathon in the NCAA quarterfinals against North Dakota, a team they had shut out 2-0 in the WCHA Final Faceoff final the week before, and a quite similar 3-2 overtime victory over Boston College in Friday's NCAA semifinals.
But the Gophers lived up to the motto Frost had presented them with for this season, and left no doubt in the title game, scoring twice in every period. "Last year, our motto was 'Prove it,' and this year, it was 'Leave no doubt,' " said Frost. "On Day 1, I told the team we had to focus on the process, the things we had to do to win. I told them we're going to lose a game here and there, but let's focus on the process. And here we are, 41 games later. It's incredible.
Captain Megan Bozek said: "I don't think we focused on being unbeaten. You guys in the media ask us about it all the time, so we have to think about it. But I don't think it ever got to be something that bothered us."
Frost, however, said later that he thought the undefeated streak did have an effect. "I think it started to weigh on them once we got to the one-and-done playoffs," he said. "But tonight, we played free."
And, they left no doubt.
It took a power play to get Minnesota untracked midway through the first period for a Mira Jaluso goal, then Hannah Brandt scored her 33rd goal of an amazing freshman season, short-handed, at 18:32 for a 2-0 lead.
The Gophers followed up on that formula, scoring twice in every period, with Patty Kazmaier Award winner Amanda Kessel getting her 45th goal late in the second and Milica McMillen connecting two and a half minutes later. In the third, defenseman Rachel Ramsey scored, and Kessel finished off the offense with a colorful empty-net goal in the final minute for No. 46.
Kessel, goaltender Noora Raty, and captain and defenseman Bozek shared the post-game interview podium with Frost. Those three were the three finalists in the Kazmaier competition for best women's college hockey player in the country.
"I don't know if you can draw up a better scenario," Frost said. "To go 41-0, and have the three best players in the country on this team, it's something I can't even put into words."
Despite the steady offense, the Gophers were never completely clear of the hustling and well-prepared Terriers. After Brandt's short-handed goal, BU came back 16 seconds later, still on the power play, for a goal by Sarah Lefort, who pulled a rebound clear and backhanded it past tournament most outstanding player, Noora Raty, in the Minnesota goal, cutting it to 2-1.
And, trailing 4-1 after two, Boston University's spectacular junior center Marie-Philip Poulin scored with a 40-foot one-timer blast from the slot at 1:48 of the third period to lift the Terriers within 4-2.
"The key in the game was to get the lead," said Kessel. "But it was never safe. When we were ahead 4-2 in the third period, Poulin walks in and Noora made a great save. It could have been 4-3, but instead we went down and made it 5-2."
That was when Ramsey scored on a tap-in at the crease with 4:33 remaining. Even at 5-2, however, the persistent Terriers came back again to make it 5-3 with 2:52 left -- 6 seconds after a Minnesota time out.
"I called time because our line had been out there too long, so I wanted to get fresh legs out there," said Frost. "I called time out, they pulled their goalie and scored on the next shift."
Within two again, which puts a team in striking distance, made the last three minutes more important, and it also made Kessel's empty-net goal with 49 seconds remaining the first moment the Gophers themselves were assured there was, in a phrase, no doubt.