MINNEAPOLIS – After situating themselves in a room full of reporters after the NCAA title game on Sunday, Boston University women’s hockey captains Marie-Philip Poulin and Jill Cardella let their emotions show. With her face red, Poulin dabbed at her eyes and took a deep breath. Cardella, who just played her last game in a Terrier uniform, bit her bottom lip.
For the second time in three years, these two players were on the losing end of a national championship game.
This time around, the loss came to an undefeated University of Minnesota — the first women’s hockey team in NCAA history to go undefeated in a season.
“I guess today you saw a record-breaking team play another great hockey game,” said BU coach Brian Durocher. “I tip my cap to them.”
After three periods of trying to fight back into a game they never led, BU (28-6-3, 18-2-1 Hockey East) fell to the Gophers (41-0-0) 6-3 at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
The score, however, falls short of reflecting the intensity of a game where a single save by Gophers goaltender Noora Räty kept the Terriers at an arm’s distance from Minnesota.
For the first 11 minutes of play, each team took turns making strong attempts on the opposing goaltender. After a crosschecking penalty on junior defenseman Kaleigh Fratkin, however, Minnesota reminded the Terriers why it is the best team in the nation when it has a man advantage.
Just over a minute into the penalty, and seconds after BU junior netminder Kerrin Sperry put a stop to a flurry of shots from the Gophers’ top line, Minnesota broke through with a goal by defenseman Mira Jalosuo on a shot from the left circle.
Then, in a two-minute frenzy, Minnesota’s Hannah Brandt tallied her 33rd goal of the season while shorthanded. The freshman forward came down the ice on a two-on-one and saw her first shot deflected away by Sperry. Brandt then picked up the rebound in what appeared to be a quick blow to the Terriers.
Just 16 seconds later, however, with a single second remaining on the power play, freshman forward Sarah Lefort cut into the Gophers’ 2-0 lead. Lefort, who had a few strong chances earlier in the game, picked up a rebound from sophomore defenseman Shannon Stoneburgh and put it by Räty to give the Terriers some momentum heading into the second.
For the next 16 minutes, BU’s defense fought its way through an increase in possession by the Gophers. The Terriers, nonetheless, dropped another goal behind Minnesota when Patty Kazmaier award winner and the nation’s leading goal scorer Amanda Kessel slapped a one-timer by Sperry to put the Gophers up 3-1.
Minutes later, with Cardella in the box for elbowing, defenseman Milica McMillen notched Minnesota’s second power-play goal of the game with just 12 seconds left in the frame.
The Terriers, however, did not give up despite having a three-goal mountain to climb against the best team in the country.
“We came back into the dressing room and Coach talked to us and … we took it together and we talked to each other and never gave up,” Poulin said. “And that’s what happened and that’s the right thing. We never gave up.”
BU came out strong in the third, and Poulin, who had taken a slapper to the knee earlier in the game, came through for the Terriers to cut the score in half.
For her 19th goal of the season, Poulin slapped a shot by Räty, suddenly putting the Terriers right back into the game.
Poulin, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, almost made it 4-3, but her shot was turned aside by Räty, who took home the title of Most Outstanding Player. Minnesota responded with its fifth goal of the game, something that Kessel called the turning point for the Gophers.
“I remember it’s 4-2 and Poulin walks in and Noora makes a great save, and we go down and score and I think that’s really when the game changed,” Kessel said. “I really got back to the bench and I was like, ‘Wow, this game could have been 4-3 and now we’re up 5-2,’ and for me that’s really the point when I thought we were pretty secure.”
BU attempted one more comeback with less than three minutes remaining on a goal by senior forward Jenelle Kohanchuk, but after an empty-net goal by Kessel with less than a minute left, the Terriers’ fate was secured.
As disappointing as the loss was for Cardella, the senior found one positive in the final minutes of the contest.
“I don’t know many teams that would be down 4-1 to Minnesota, and after the second period come back,” Cardella said. “Even Fratkin blocked a shot with 20 seconds left in the game when we’re down three goals, so that pretty much tells the whole story.”