Minnesota Hockey Magazine

Back where they belong

The Gophers celebrate a goal in their 6-2 win over R.I.T. on Saturday afternoon at Ridder Arena (Photo – Eric Miller/Gopher Athletics)

Gopher women roll into Frozen Four — again

Minneapolis — There might have been an exposed nerve or two among the University of Minnesota women’s hockey players heading into the NCAA tournament, senior defenseman Rachel Ramsey said, but with one game standing between the Gophers and the Frozen Four, a different emotion prevailed.

“I think everybody was more excited than anything,” Ramsey said after the Gophers dispatched the Rochester Institute of Technology 6-2 in front of 1,796 Saturday afternoon at Ridder Arena. “The locker room was pretty loose, actually. I think everyone was ready to have some fun.”

For the fourth season of Ramsey’s four at Minnesota, the Gophers climbed back into the Frozen Four with a methodical thumping of a game-but-overmatched RIT squad.

Ramsey said she and fellow seniors Rachael Bona, Meghan Lorence and Shyler Sletta have been keenly aware that every game could be their last. Now they have at least one additional game, a semifinal against Wisconsin March 20 at Ridder in the first round of a tournament that has long been sold out.

“It’s always fun to play Wisconsin,” Ramsey said. “We play great against them; they play great against us. Personally, it’s my favorite rivalry. In my opinion usually it’s the best example of women’s college hockey that there is.”

To get there, the Gophers pelted RIT goalie Ali Binnington with 51 shots Saturday — 39 in the first two periods — scored on 3 of 5 power plays and added an empty-netter in the final minute. In addition, they skated off two major penalties including one to begin the second period when they led just 3-1.

That presented his team a glimmer of hope, Tigers coach Scott McDonald pointed out, but the Gophers said no.

“They just smothered us out there,” McDonald said.

Hannah Brandt and Kate Schipper each netted a goal and two assists while Ramsey, Milica McMillen and Maryanne Menefee chipped in one goal and one assist apiece to lead the Minnesota offense.

Although the Tigers could not overcome that, they turned in a credible performance in their first trip to the NCAA Division I tournament. Three seasons ago, RIT won the NCAA Division III title before moving up to DI.

“It’s a huge step for our program in a three-year period, to get to this level already,” McDonald said.

But McDonald knew that his team, which came to Minneapolis with a 15-18-5 record, had an unenviable assignment against the top-seeded Gophers.

“Minnesota’s a tough team; that’s the best team we’ve seen all year, no question about it,” he said. “They look like a veteran squad out there and they are a veteran squad, playing in the last three national championship games. They played like it today.”

The game became chippy at times, with Minnesota taking 36 minutes in penalties to 14 for RIT, but Gophers coach Brad Frost said his players avoided most of the rough stuff and simply did what was necessary.

“Just the magnitude of the game brought out the best in our players,” he said.

Frost’s team has been waiting for another shot at the Frozen Four since dropping a 5-4 decision to Clarkson in the national championship game more than 50 weeks ago, so Frost admitted that as the Frozen Four host team, the pressure was evident.

“Now that we’re there,” he said, “I know they’ll play very free and are really excited about the opportunity.”

The Gophers, now 32-3-4, won NCAA titles in 2012 and ’13 before tumbling a year ago. They will be shooting for their sixth national championship if they reach the final March 22.