Minnesota knocks off previously perfect BC to repeat as national champs
DURHAM, N.H. — At one end of the hallway in the Whittemore Center, a Minnesota player was standing outside the locker room door cradling the national championship trophy and trying to take a selfie with it.
At the other end, outside the Boston College locker room, senior Lexi Bender was trying to bite back tears.
“I sat in the locker room and it was really hard to take my jersey off for the last time,’’ said Bender after Minnesota ended BC’s perfect season at 41-1-0 with a 3-1 victory in the national championship.
“I kind of forgot how to lose,’’ said Bender.
Third-seeded Minnesota successfully defended its title in the women’s Frozen Four Sunday, powering past top-seeded Boston College to claim its seventh championship.
It is the third time Minnesota (35-4-1), playing in its fifth straight title game, has claimed back-to-back championships, a feat the Gophers also accomplished in 2004-05 and 2012-13. Minnesota won the 2013 title to cap a 41-0-0 season.
“It never gets old,’’ said Minnesota coach Brad Frost. “We’re just so excited and happy and grateful to have won the 2016 national championship. It’s somewhat surreal.
“To get to five national championship games in a row is nuts, and then to win four of them is where the surreal comes in.”
It was the first trip to the title game for the Eagles, who had to watch the Gophers throw their sticks and gloves in the air at the final buzzer, then wait around until Minnesota was handed the championship trophy.
“It really just sucks,’’ said junior Andie Anastos. “There’s not much else to it, seeing somebody else be able to celebrate like that.”
“I don’t think you can knock what we did this entire season, what we accomplished,’’ said Bender. “We became a family this year and I love every single one of my teammates. Today didn’t go how we wanted.”
Minnesota sat on a 1-0 lead for 2½ periods, until the Gophers star Amanda Kessel rifled a shot from the top of the right circle at 8:31 of the third for a two-goal bulge.
Kelly Pannek made it 3-0 at 13:12, intercepting a BC attempt to clear a rebound and slinging it around goalie Katie Burt.
Freshman Makenna Newkirk gave the Eagles renewed hope with a tip-in goal at 14:07, but even with Burt pulled for an extra skater, BC could not get more.
“I think it could have gone either way, we had our chances for sure,’’ said Bender. “We prepared all year to be our best in this game. We just couldn’t put them in when we needed to.”
Minnesota got off to a fast start. The puck had scarcely hit the ice after the opening faceoff when Gophers freshman Sarah Potomak sent it into the BC zone. Hannah Brandt beat the BC defenders to the puck behind the net and fed a pass out to Potomak, who knocked in the goal with only 13 seconds elapsed. It was the 15th goal of the season for Potomak, who scored in overtime in the semifinal against Wisconsin and was named tournament MVP.
“Our kids fought back really hard after letting an early one in,’’ said BC coach Katie Crowley. “I was really proud of the way we’ve played all year. We had a phenomenal year. I’m extremely proud of where we’ve gotten to this year.’’
BC reached new heights on the skills of six talented seniors, forwards Alex Carpenter, Haley Skarupa, Dana Trivigno, and Meghan Grieves, and defenders Bender and Kaliya Johnson. The seniors have played in four straight NCAA Tournaments.
“These six seniors have given so much to the younger players and have shown them how to be a BC hockey player and what it’s all about,’’ said Crowley. “A lot of the younger players learned that through this whole year and will use that to continue to get better.”
Burt, a sophomore, echoed her coach’s words. “Our senior class is remarkable, I don’t know if you can put into words how much they’ve meant to our program and how they’ve pushed our program forward,’’ said Burt. “They’ve made history more times than you can count. Our senior class is definitely going to be missed.”
BC took awhile to get its footing as the Gophers had a 10-4 shot advantage halfway through the first period. The Minnesota power play got a chance at 8:45 when Grace Bizal was called for hooking, but Burt withstood a flurry of shots from the nation’s top power play (.434).
The Eagles’ offense began to shake loose and send some testing shots at Minnesota’s Amanda Leveille. Trivigno stole the puck in the BC defensive zone and rushed up ice for a shot. Leveille made the initial stop and ended up sitting on the puck as Bizal tried to get her stick on the rebound.
In the final minute of the period, Anastos seemed to find Newkirk for a clear breakaway, but the play was ruled offside. By the end of the first, each team had 12 shots.
With both teams skating full tilt, the second period was rife with scoring chances but no goals. Burt made 15 saves and Leveille had 13, including a pair on Kenzie Kent’s point-blank attempts.
“We had all the faith in the world,’’ said Burt. “All the way down to the last buzzer we thought we could do it.”
It is the end for the seniors, and BC will need to do some replenishing to get another shot at a national title.
“It’s tough to have that feeling,’’ said Burt, sitting in the hallway on top of her hockey bag, packed for the trip home. “We didn’t get to do it for the seniors and that’s something we really wanted.
“Nobody ever wants it to end. Every season has to come to an end. Players roll over. Next year we’re just going to have focus with the players we have and just go with them.”