MINNEAPOLIS — The odds are stacked against Boston College as it attempts to advance to its first NCAA championship game. The Eagles will be taking on what some consider the best women’s college hockey team ever, top-ranked Minnesota, in Friday’s semifinal.
The defending champion Golden Gophers have won an NCAA-record 47 consecutive games dating to last season. They’ve shut out 22 of 39 opponents this season, dominating the competition in nearly every category.
On top of it all, the Frozen Four is being held at Ridder Arena, the home of the Gophers, which has seen blossoming attendance numbers because of the team’s success and media attention surrounding the streak. The 3,400-seat rink is sold out for this weekend.
The Eagles, however, insist they’re treating Friday’s 6 p.m. matchup like any other game.
“This is a new season to everybody,” said BC coach Katie King Crowley, who added that her players have been in plenty of big games. “I don’t expect them to be shellshocked or anything like that going into this.”
Crowley wouldn’t call the Gophers the best team ever, but the Eagles know what they’re up against.
“There have been some tremendous teams throughout the history of the college game,” she said. “I think it’s difficult to compare in that way, but what they’ve done so far this year is an incredible feat. It’s something that’s really tough to do, to come into the rink every day and be prepared like it seems they have. My hat is off to them. What they’ve done this season is special.”
The Eagles have yet to be affected by the hype, as evidenced by a loose and spirited practice Thursday morning. Sophomore Alex Carpenter, the Hockey East Player of the Year, said the Eagles can’t afford to get caught up in Minnesota’s season.
“We are aware of their record and how they’ve been doing this year, but I don’t think our main focus is on worrying about what they’re doing,” said Carpenter, who leads BC with 32 goals and 37 assists. “It’s about us and our team and how we’re doing every day.”
This is the third straight Frozen Four appearance for the Eagles (27-6-3), who rank second in the nation in scoring. Senior Blake Bolden leads BC defensemen with six goals and 23 assists. Hockey East Rookie of the Year Haley Skarupa has 24 goals and 27 assists.
“While we haven’t played them, we know their players and know what they’re about and know their coaches very well, so I would expect a very exciting game,” said Minnesota coach Brad Frost.
BC senior goalie Corinne Boyles knows she’ll have her toughest challenge yet against the highest-scoring team in the nation, including the nation’s leading scorer Amanda Kessel — Phil’s sister — who has 97 points. At the opposite end of the ice is Gophers goalie Noora Raty, who has 17 shutouts this season and a stunning 0.88 goals-against average.
A strong start will be key for the Eagles, who feel they’re up for the challenge.
“Our kids have been in spots all year, whether we’ve been up by a couple goals or we’ve been down by a couple of goals and we’ve been able to come back,” Crowley said. “I think they’re pretty mentally tested and mentally ready to go.”
Boston University, the Hockey East regular-season and tournament champions, will take on Mercyhurst (29-6-1) in Friday’s second semifinal at 9 p.m. The Terriers (27-5-3) earned their second Frozen Four appearance with a 5-3 victory over Clarkson last Saturday and are riding a nine-game winning streak.
Junior Marie Philip-Poulin leads the Terriers with 51 points. Sarah Lefort (42 points) has emerged as one of the nation’s top freshmen.
BC, BU, and Mercyhurst will not only hope to end the Gophers’ winning streak, they are looking to become the first Eastern school to capture the NCAA championship. Ever since Division 1 women’s hockey was adopted by the NCAA as a varsity sport in 2001, a Western Collegiate Hockey Association has won the title.
The championship game is Sunday at 4.