MINNEAPOLIS — Top seed Minnesota advanced to its fourth consecutive NCAA title game with a 3-1 win against four seed Wisconsin in front of a soldout crowd at Ridder Arena Friday evening.
“We’re obviously ecstatic with the result here tonight,” said Minnesota coach Brad Frost.
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“We’re blessed, fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to play again on Sunday.
Junior Amanda Leveille made 34 saves, and fellow juniors Hannah Brandt and Maryanne Menefee recorded three points each to lead Minnesota (33-3-4).
“Our big-time players stepped up tonight and were able to get the job done,” Frost said.
“We set up a couple huge momentum shifts in our favor throughout the night, which really enabled us to push through and get the victory. So we’re very happy to be able to play in our fourth NCAA Championship game in four years. It’s pretty incredible.”
Wisconsin (29-6-4) was led by Ann Renee Desbiens, who made 20 saves, and Annie Pankowski, who scored the lone Badger goal. The Gophers were outshot for just the third time this season as UW held a 35-23 advantage in shots on goal.
All four goals came in the second period after the teams remained scoreless in the opening 20 minutes.
Wisconsin struck first in the second period, but the Gophers responded with three unanswered goals. The Badgers broke the scoreless tie just 52 seconds into the middle frame when Pankowski scored off a feed from Emily Clark. Clark won the faceoff to Leveille’s right, and Pankowski ripped a one-timer to give the Badgers the one-goal lead.
Brandt tied the game with her 33rd goal of the season eight minutes later, burying a rebound from Dani Cameranesi and Menefee. The assist marked Cameranesi’s 100th career point in Maroon & Gold.
Less than two minutes later, Menefee scored a goal of her own when she tipped a shot by Megan Wolfe past Desbiens. Brandt fed Wolfe at the point to pick up the second assist on the play.
Minnesota then made it 3-1 with a power-play goal by Kelly Pannek at the 16:54 mark of the period as the nation’s best power play solved the nation’s best penalty kill unit for the third time this season. Menefee and Brandt set up the play.
“When’s the last time Wisconsin even gave up a power-play goal?” said Frost.
“That was obviously huge for us and was kind of a back-breaker for them. We take a lot of pride in our power plays and I told the team that if we get a power play against Wisconsin, I think we can win, and we were able to do that.”
The third period saw the Badgers outshoot the Gophers 10-3, but Leveille held the nation’s fifth-best offense to just one goal as Minnesota moved on to Sunday’s national championship game.
“Wisconsin is really good,” said Frost.
“They just are. They’re playing unbelievable hockey, and it took us a while to get our legs. Once Hannah scored that goal, you could really just feel the tide turn a little bit, and the energy of the crowd was tremendous all night. It felt like the roof was going to blow off the place. It took that goal, though, to really get us going offensively.”