Despite a record-setting season for Boston University women's hockey, the Terriers' bid for their first-ever national championship came to the end on the sticks of another program having a record-setting season.
The Terriers (28-6-3) lost to the 41-0-0 University of Minnesota in Sunday afternoon's national championship game, 6-3, leading many within the hockey community to label the Gophers as the best team that's ever played women's hockey.
Coach Brian Durocher was humble and diplomatic when asked post-game if his Terriers had faced the best team of all time.
"(I've been here) eight years, and some that have been around longer, all they ever tell me is how much quicker, faster, stronger and better these kids are getting,” said Durocher, “so clearly this has got to be right up there as one of the top teams that have played out there."
BU definitely put up a strong fight against Patty Kazmaier Award winner Amanda Kessel and her Gophers, who had nothing to lose in the quest for the perfect season. Minnesota head coach Brad Frost acknowledged the day prior to the championship game that his star junior right wing was "not 100 percent," but assured the media that she would still be on her ‘A’ game at game time.
And was she ever.
No team could have stopped Kessel's bid for the first 100 point season in women's hockey since 2005, which she got with a two-goal, two-assist game. She played with a tenacity and fearlessness that had not been evident in Minnesota's semifinal against Boston College on Friday night. Kessel didn't fall back when a play could be made in front of her, like she had done several times against the Eagles. She made sure she was a stride ahead of her teammates and the Terriers, and jumped right in to block shots, make passes and create opportunities.
BU could have used a bit more speed, but what they may have lacked in that department, they made up for in effort. The Terriers continued their strong transition game from Friday night's semifinal win against Mercyhurst, putting a limit to how many chances the eager Gophers had in the first period.
Where opportunities began to open up for Minnesota was on BU penalties, an aspect of the game they admitted they needed to work on a few days prior. Kaleigh Fratkin cross-checked Minnesota's Rachael Bona at the 10:21 point of the first period, opening up a chance for Mira Jalosuo to take a shot from the right faceoff dot to get the Gophers on the board first.
BU got a woman advantage back five minutes later, with Shannon Stoneburgh, one of the night's best defensemen, drawing a hooking penalty on Rachel Ramsey. But Kessel intervened, taking the puck up ice, and passing it to her center, Hannah Brandt, who shot wide against the boards. The puck then strongly bounced back, hit BU goaltender Kerrin Sperry in the back and bounced into the net for a Minnesota shorthanded goal.
But BU answered immediately. Sixteen seconds later, while still on the power play, Stoneburgh took a shot on Gophers goaltender Noora Raty, who let up an advantageous rebound like she had been doing all weekend. Sarah Lefort chipped in the rebound to get the Terriers on the board, and they entered the first intermission down just one goal.
The first half of the second period featured strong pressure by BU, creating enough opportunities for themselves and limiting the Gophers ability to get much going. The sold-out crowd in Minnesota's home rink were quiet for the first time all night. Jenelle Kohanchuk had a great chance near the midway point of the period, as Marie-Philip Poulin tried to set her up for a pass, but the Gophers' Kelly Terry played man-on to prevent the pass.
With just over four minutes left in the period, Kessel received a drop pass from Maryanna Menefee and took a one timer from the right faceoff circle to put Minnesota up 3-1. Kohanchuk tried to answer on the following possession with a shot on Raty that was turned away. Milica McMillien then took another one-timer shot to put the Gophers up 4-1 with 12 second left in the period.
Durocher told his team in the second intermission that he was pleased with their effort despite the score. "I tried to tell them after the second period that when it was 4-1, three of the four goals were one-timers. You could put a bucket of pucks out there, and there's a lot of people who couldn't hit one one-timer in that situation, and they had three goals on one-timers. So it tells you how good they are and what we had to do, because I think we were rotating around and were making plays, but they made better ones."
Just a minute and a half into the third period, Poulin got BU within two goals with a center shot on Raty on a power play. Minnesota threatened several times after that, but Sperry and her defense made a series of stellar saves, including a robbery of a Kessel breakaway where she passed through her legs, around a BU defender and swerved as she approached the net.
Menafee and Ramsey connected on a 2-on-1 that the BU defense couldn't interrupt, and Minnesota went back up by three. Kohanchuk finally got a puck in the net after threatening all evening less than two minutes later, but the BU comeback didn't have enough time to find its groove. After a timeout, BU pulled Sperry, but Kessel got a hold of the puck and shot in the empty-netter for her second goal of the night and 101st point of the season to seal the win for the Gophers.
BU may have lost in the national championship game for the second time in three years, but the eight-year-old program is still light years ahead of where many thought they would be at this point in their existence - including their coach.
"I had hoped in year four or five, we would be at least challenging in big Hockey East games at the end of the year," reflected Durocher. "To have this senior class have been four times to the NCAA Tournament, twice to the Frozen Four championship game and have three Hockey East championships, that's a lot more than I think I might have thought they were going to get."