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Minnesota Finishes Bemidji State, Moves onto WCHA Final Face-Off

After a grueling three game series, Gopher Women’s Hockey beat the Beavers and will advance to the WCHA Final Face-Off tournament. Friday Minnesota won 3-1, Saturday Bemidji State won 2-1, and Sunday Minnesota won the series 3-2.

Cat Lenander

Friday evening’s game started with a Minnesota shot hitting Bemidji goaltender, Brittni Mowat, in the center of her chest, as she looked the other way. Minnesota buzzed around Bemidji’s zone until Bailey Wright tripped Kate Schipper behind the net and went to the box at 3:30. Minnesota cycled the puck well, but had a lot shot output on the power play, as Summer Thibodeau kept crashing into Gophers with the puck, eventually taking Megan Wolfe down along the bench. This did not deter the Gophers and they continued attempting shots, though most were long ones.

With a loud 'plink,' Katie Robinson's shot from the right point arced over traffic into goal at 13:48. Cara Piazza and Lindsay Agnew had the assists. The rest of the period, save for Abby Halluska’s shot hitting the crossbar in the last minute, was pretty much spent in Bemidji’s zone with Minnesota controlling the puck. The period also included some physicality—Patti Marshall taking Emily Bergland into the backboards and Sophie Skarzynski wrestling Thibodeau to the ice when they were locked together—but neither side seemed significantly advantaged by it. By the end of the period shots were 14-2 Minnesota and they were the only team to score.

Second period Minnesota repeatedly drove into Beaver territory. Then Sarah Potomak shot from above the left circle and the puck flew into the bottom right side of the net, but the goal was immediately disavowed due to a high stick. Beaver skaters spent the period doing their best impression of a brick wall, a time honored tradition while facing the Gophers, which allowed Minnesota nearly unrestricted movement around the border of their zone and a nearly uninterrupted attack. Eventually Marshall got the puck at the bottom of the right circle and shot it into goal over Mowat at 14:36. Kelly Pannek and Sydney Baldwin assisted. Agnew nearly widened the gap again, but Mowat caught her shot from the right dot and instead Agnew went for slashing at 16:07. From their continued offense, it almost seemed like the Gophers didn’t realize they were killing a penalty. In the last minute two different Gophers rang the puck off the post. Minnesota finished the period up by two, shots 22-4 also in their favor.

The first five minutes of third period were a lot of back and forth with few shots mixed with some physicality. Alexis Joyce held onto a Gopher’s stick as she tried to wrap around the Bemidji net and went to the box at 5:15. On the power play Wolfe shot from the left side into traffic at the crease and Potomak and Lee Stecklein dug for the puck under Mowat until Stecklein flicked it into goal at 6:11. Then Haley Mack made a shot from the right point and the puck bounced past Sidney Peters, breaking the shutout at 7:29. Carley Esse and Wright assisted.

After they finally scored the Beavers became more vigorous. They zipped around Minnesota’s crease and then Emma Terres tried to bang it home from the doorstep, but Peters stopped her cold. Then there was a bit of pushing and pulling after Peters gloved a Beaver shot at the crease. Bemidji pulled Mowat for the extra skater with 1:20 left, but put her back in when Ciscely Nelson took a slashing penalty at 19:06. Bemidji immediately used their timeout to rest the best players and, once play was out of their zone, pulled Mowat again. In the last seconds of the period Lauren Miller grabbed a Gopher’s stick, which sent her to the ice, and then Tianna Gunderson made Miller face plant. Miller’s actions earned her a holding the stick penalty as the final buzzer rang and Minnesota won 3-1, with shots 35-8 also in their favor.

On Saturday Minnesota had some of their best first period chances in the first minute as the puck whipped back and forth through Mowat’s crease. After that, most of the Gophers seemed dead on their feet losing races, difficulty completing passes, or hanging onto the puck. Peters was alive in her crease though, and covered the puck as two Beavers barred down on her with Gophers trailing behind. Bemidji actually put on an offensive flurry that concluded with Nelson wrapping around goal, shooting, and Thibodeau tipping the puck into goal on the left side at 6:15. Megan Wolfe tried to respond by shooting under Mowat, but the goaltender sat down and a mess formed around her as Gophers tried to fish it out from under her. The play went under review at 6:48, but it was determined the puck hadn’t crossed the goal line.

Peters smacked Mack’s breakaway hard enough to land on the ice. There was a bit of back and forth across the ice and then Kiki Radke slashed Peter’s glove after she had covered the puck, earning herself a penalty at 11:40. It did not seem like a Minnesota power play because they hardly spent any time in Bemidji’s zone. After that Minnesota forced Mowat to leap onto the puck and caused a mess in her crease after a failed wraparound attempt. Mowat barely stopped another attempt near the end of the period and that play resulted in Madison Hutchinson and Caitlin Reilly after the whistle. First period ended with Minnesota slightly ahead in shots, 11-7, but Bemidji had the lone goal of the game.

In second period Taylor Williamson had a nice shot after receiving a back pass while the Gophers buzzed around Bemidji’s zone. Mostly though it was a lot of back and forth across the ice with both sides boxing each other in. The Beavers were skating extremely aggressively during this game to the point where Potomak couldn’t be on the ice without a green shadow pressing into her. A lot of Gophers hit the ice, whether or not they had the puck, due to this bodying. However, the most egregious moment was when play had to be halted because Thibodeau had been so close to Piazza she got their masks hooked together and she had to grab the Gopher’s neck to disentangle them. This skating choice, combined with Bemidji’s extreme defensiveness, and Minnesota’s general lack of energy left the team frustrated and it started to get to them.

Williamson took a high sticking penalty at 15:26, which Minnesota killed. Seconds later Lisa Laiti and Sydney Baldwin raced for the puck and then Baldwin hooked her, which sent the pair crashing at the goal line. Baldwin earned her hooking penalty at 17:36. It started with Minnesota on the defense, but then Piazza gets the puck in Bemidji’s zone, shoots from the right, and while Mowat blocked the shot, Potomak banged home the rebound on the left side at 19:32, tying the game with a short handed goal. Then Minnesota finished the period with Williamson going back to the box, this time for holding, at 19:58.

Unsurprisingly, the penalty carried over into third period. It harmlessly expired after Minnesota did a solid job keeping the puck out of their zone. Reilly had a great attempt on goal off a teammate’s misfire and then Minnesota had a flurry around Mowat. Thibodeau hauled Piazza down to the ice without a call, but the Gophers kept hacking, trying to find any chinks in the Beavers’ defenses. Bemidji still got into Minnesota’s zone and slide the puck through Peters’s crease a few times. Then Nelson flew down the right side with Stecklein skating backwards, tracing her every movement. After Nelson crossed the goal line it seemed like she no longer had the shot, but she fired anyway, hitting Peters’s side and the puck just squeezed through the crack between her back and the post into goal at 11:09.

Thibodeau and Schipper collided along the bench at 11:17 and Schipper was sent to the box for checking, though as they rose it was Thibodeau who climbed off Schipper. The Gophers killed the penalty and spent the rest of the period trying to find an equalizer. They kept getting into Bemidji’s zone, manage a poor shot, which Mowat blocked, and were then knocked out again. Eventually they pulled Peters at 18:43 for the extra skater and Bemidji used their timeout at 19:04. Despite putting 34 shots on goal to the Beavers’s 24, the Gophers couldn’t tie and Bemidji won 2-1, which meant there would be a third game in this best of three game series.

Sunday Minnesota showed up to play a hockey game and spent a lot of time boxing Bemidji in their zone, though Peters did see a little action as Bemidji kept getting out and buzzing around her. Schipper zipped up the left side and swooped past Mowat’s crease, but couldn’t get the shot off. Then Minnesota caused a mess at the Bemidji crease and right after the resulting faceoff Mowat had to make a lunging save. Then during another Gopher onslaught Pannek got the puck and scored, assisted by Potomak and Wolfe, from the left side at 10:35. Minnesota kept going at full speed and after a little puck cycling Stecklin made a short shot from the center of the blue line, whereupon Schipper redoubled her efforts in the slot, and that allowed Reilly to tip in the second shot from at the crease. The play went under review, but was declared a good goal at 13:26.

Pannek tripped as she chased Nelson and accidentally took her down on her way to the ice. Then as Peters fended off a couple of Beavers, she had to make a quick leg swipe, which kept the puck out, but put it on a Beaver’s stick and she blocked the rebound as well. Baldwin made an attempt up the right side with a lateral pass to Schammel in the left circle, but her shot went just a little too high. Radke streaked down the center with Wolfe and Stecklein hot on her heels and just as Radke reached the crease, Wolfe batted the puck away to the boards, foiling her attempt. Bemidji’s next attempt happened when Miller flew down the left side and shot under Peters to score at 19:50, unassisted, though it took an incredibly long review for the officials to determine the puck crossed the line.

The first four minutes of second period were solid Minnesota puck possession. Then as the Beavers finally took control of the puck in their own zone one of their defenders accidentally ran over Mowat. Play had moved to harry Peters, so Mowat had the luxury of righting herself slowly and she seemed alright by the time she had to block more shots. Potomak tried a breakaway down the left side, which ended with a weak shot, but then made a stronger attempt down the right side. That ended with her crashing into the backboards after a Beaver whacked her shins with her stick the moment after she made her shot. Baldwin had something of a bad shift reguarding puck possession, which resulted in Bergland getting the puck in Bemidji’s zone and putting it on Peters.

Still, Minnesota stayed on the attack. Schammel showed some nice stick handling, which gave her an excellent chance on Mowat and after the whistle Thibodeau gave her a shove. Marshall took an interference penalty at 10:58 and the Gophers put on a painful to watch penalty kill. They couldn’t hang onto the puck and kept falling and crashing into the boards as they defended their zone, which gave Bemidji an atypical offensive opportunity, though they were still unable to convert. Peters made a beautiful glove save after the penalty. Then Minnesota created some chaos in Bemidji’s zone, which left skaters climbing over each other in the crease. Unable to settle things down nor control the situation, a shot from the right side hit Mowat and left the puck spinning on its side as it reeled through her 5-hole into goal at 15:14. Pannek scored that goal with Piazza and Potomak assisting.

Ideally, that would have been the last thing of note in second period, but then Thibodeau went down unexpectedly and crashed into the boards in Minnesota’s corner. Not exactly certain what happened, as it seemed like no one had touched her, but she was already curled in on herself when she came to a stop and she didn’t get up. After a couple trainers checked her out, teammates Nelson and Hutchinson helped her off the ice, as Thibodeau didn’t appear to be putting any weight on one leg. She didn’t return to play.

Once the game resumed Melissa Hunt interfered with Schammel’s play along the boards and had to sit at 18:22 and this penalty harmlessly expired in third period. There was some congested back and forth for a couple minutes. Then Halluska skated past the Gophers in her zone and down the right side before shooting into the back of Peter’s net at 4:25. Minnesota took a couple breakaway shots on Mowat after that, which were denied. Then Wolfe went up the right side and as she came toward the crease Esse hooked her, which earned her a trip to the box at 8:49. Joyce had a breakaway on the penalty kill and while Peters stopped that, Stecklein fell on her and it took the goaltender agonizing seconds to get back in position as the Beavers had a live puck in the zone.

Williamson and Reilly both made attempts on Mowat, but were denied. Then at 15:00 Minnesota iced the puck after Bemidji had iced it several times in quick succession. Before the Beavers could do anything in their zone the Gophers had it out again and forced Bemidji to ice the puck yet again. Radke then shot on Peters, which caused her to stop and cover the puck. Kaasa was in the crease and must have been too close to Peters for Marshall’s liking because she knocked Kaasa down and raised her stick as if she meant to start hacking, but did not actually do it.

In the last three minutes or so of the game Minnesota switched from offensive tactics to just keeping the puck out of their zone. Sensing the shift in play, Bemidji attacked with renewed vigor, which caused Kaasa and Stecklein to crash into Minnesota’s net. Minnesota used their timeout at 18:24 as they reset the net and when play resumed Bemidji had six skaters and an empty net. There was another flurry of Bemidji activity and Peters kicked the net off its moorings as she landed on Terres’s shot. It took a while to reset the net this time and while they waited Bemidji used their timeout at 19:15, but they had to wait past that expiring for the net to be fixed. The last 44 seconds was a Beavery frenzy trying to find the back of the net, but they couldn’t get past Peters again, playing on her birthday, and Minnesota won 3-2 to finish the series.

With this third game win Minnesota will advance to the WCHA Final Face-Off tournament, which will be held next weekend at Ridder Arena on March 4th and 5th. During the Saturday semifinals Wisconsin plays North Dakota at 2pm and then Minnesota faces Duluth at 5pm. The winners from the matches play at 2pm on Sunday for the tournament championship and an auto bid into the NCAA national tournament’s first round.