At the time of our last report in early February, the Gophers were 28-0 and had just clinched the WCHA title. After defeating Ohio State twice on the road, they returned home to defeat Bemidji State 8-0 in the first game followed by the one blip on their march through their regular season - a 3-2 win in overtime the next night, the only game of their regular season that would require overtime, which would prove to be their only one goal victory as well. They then completed their perfect 34-0 regular season with back to back shutouts over St. Cloud State on the road.
As luck would have it, the Gophers not only got to host the first round of the league and national playoffs as a higher seed, but both the WCHA conference tournament as well as the NCAA national finals were scheduled for Ridder Arena, giving the team all seven postseason games on home ice.
The first round of the WCHA playoffs saw them defeat Bemidji State with back to back 5-0 and 8-0 shutouts before sweeping the WCHA Final Face-off with a 5-0 win over Ohio State and a 2-0 win over rivals North Dakota, which, dating back to their final two regular season games, gave them six consecutive shutouts and seven of their last eight without allowing a goal.
On to the NCAA playoffs, they were obligated to open against North Dakota, only this time with elimination on the line. In an epic contest, the two teams played a scoreless third period and enter overtime tied at 2-2.
The game saw 17 combined shots in the first overtime and 15 more in the second without a decision. Just when a fourth overtime looked to be a real possibility, Kelly Terry kept Minnesota's dream season alive with a goal with just 1:09 left in the third overtime. For the game, Minnesota's Noora Räty (RAH-too) made 50 saves on 52 shots while North Dakota's Shelby Amsley-Benize stood tall with 57 saves on 60 shots, including 27 in overtime against a team averaging 5 goals a game in league play.
Friday saw the first game of the Women's Frozen Four with #1 Minnesota hosting #4 Boston College. After a scoreless first, BC took the lead on the power play at 18:13 of the second before the Gophers struck for a goal at 1:42 of the third by Hannah Brandt, her 32nd of the year, also on the power play.
Minnesota took the lead at 12:12 but Boston College struck back exactly two minutes later to tie the game, which eventually required overtime, Minnesota's second consecutive such game after a dominant regular season. This one did not need as much time as their game with North Dakota, however, as Sarah Davis pounced on a loose puck and fired it home to send Minnesota into the championship final with their perfect season on the line.
Tickets were sold out and in demand, as scalpers were looking for between $60 and $150 dollars each outside with plenty of fans hoping to get in.
Their opponents were the Boston University Terriers, ranked third in the USCHO.com poll, who came into the NCAA's with a 26-5-3 record. The Terriers tried to break out on top at 5:40 of the first period, but Finland's Räty stopped a BU breakaway to keep the game scoreless.
Minnesota's other Finn, defenseman Mira Jalosuo, then got the Gophers on the board with a shot from the point at 11:38. Brandt then extended the Minnesota lead with a shot from behind the goal and in off the skate of Terriers goalkeeper Kerrin Sperry for a 2-0 margin.
Despite the game's location in Minneapolis, Boston University was well represented by their fans and their energetic band.
With Minnesota on a late power play, defenseman Milica McMillen fired a one-timer past Sperry with just 11.8 seconds remaining in the second period to give the Gophers a 4-1 lead with just 20 minutes remaining in the quest for an undefeated season.
Boston University had other plans and Marie-Philip Poulin converted a power play chance just 1:48 into the third period, leaving them plenty of time for two more goals. Both goaltenders stood tall and thwarted several good chances by both teams as the clock began to become the Terriers enemy as time slipped away.
Just because there is no checking in women's hockey, don't think for a minute that's its not rough! Several players were taken down roughly throughout the contest and 8 penalties were called during the game.
Finally, Rachel Ramsey, daughter of 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympian Mike Ramsey, slammed in a pass from Maryann Menefee to give the Gophers some breathing room at 5-2 with 4:33 remaining. Kessel's second assist on the goal was her 100th point of the season, only the fourth woman to ever reach 100.
With nothing to lose and their goaltender pulled, BU made it 5-3 with Janelle Kohanchuk's goal at 17:08 but Kessel put the finishing touch on an undefeated perfect season for the Gophers with her 46th goal of the year into an empty net at 19:11.
Minnesota outshot BU 29-24 for the game and both teams were 2-4 on the power play.
The Gophers finished their back-to-back championship season with a flawless 41-0 season, the first undefeated season in NCAA hockey since Cornell's men's team went 29-0-0 back in 1970. Factoring in their national championship run last season, the program currently sits at 49 games without a loss and still counting.
In addition to Kessel winning the Kazmaier Award, the other two finalists were her Gopher teammates goaltender Räty and team captain defenseman Megan Bozek, the first time all three finalists were from the same team.
Finally, the three Kazmaier nominees, Bozek, Kessel and Räty during their postgame media session after winning the championship at the conclusion of their perfect season.