Seeded second nationally, Gophers women stay home and await UMD-Harvard winner
After an odd one-year absence, the Minnesota Gophers are back in the NCAA women's hockey tournament as the number two overall seed, and will host either Harvard or Minnesota Duluth for a trip to the Frozen Four.
MINNEAPOLIS — Don’t call it a comeback, but after an extremely rare one-year absence, the Minnesota Gophers are headed back to the NCAA women’s hockey playoffs.
Seeded second overall behind Ohio State, which beat the Gophers 3-2 in overtime in Sunday’s WCHA playoff title game, the Gophers will host the Minneapolis regional at Ridder Arena, where they will face the winner of Thursday’s opening round game between Harvard and Minnesota Duluth.
The Gophers, who have been the top-ranked team in the nation for the past two months, won the WCHA’s regular season title and head into the NCAAs with a 29-7-1 record, in search of the program’s eighth national title.
“We knew we were in, so that’s a great thing. It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work, but this is where we want to be every year, in the tournament and mission accomplished here so far,” said Gophers coach Brad Frost.
A year ago, with schedules thrown into organized chaos due to the pandemic, the Gophers were the top-ranked team in the nation in January and two months later were left out of the eight-team NCAA tournament field. In the fall, after much discussion and debate, the NCAA expanded the field from eight to 11 teams, adding a quarterfinal round.
The Gophers had won 10 games in a row heading into Sunday’s conference title game, and led the Buckeyes 2-0 in the third period before a furious rally and a penalty in the final seconds of regulation put Ohio State on the power play in overtime. Sophie Jacques scored just 23 seconds into the extra session, lifting the Buckeyes to the top seed in the nation.
“Last year was like a shot to the gut. That was horrible,” said Gophers senior center Taylor Heise, who leads the nation offensively and was named the top player in the WCHA. “But this year knowing that we stuck through this year and completely played our game, day in and day out, and proved that we are the number one or number two team in the nation, we set ourselves up for success this weekend…We came out and proved to people this weekend that we are a dominant force.”
Ohio State will face the winner of a quarterfinal between Quinnipiac and Syracuse. Wisconsin, which is the two-time defending champion, travels to Boston where the Badgers will face Clarkson in a quarterfinal game, with the winner advancing to face Northeastern.
The Gophers were 3-2-0 versus Minnesota Duluth this season, splitting regular season series in Duluth and in Minneapolis, and beating the Bulldogs 5-1 in Saturday’s WCHA tournament semifinals. They last faced Harvard in November 2019, beating the Crimson 4-0 at a tournament in Nashville. After Sunday’s loss, some Gophers felt that going into the NCAA tournament with some anger might be a good thing.
“The coaches were saying in the locker room, ‘it’s going to feel like fire,’ and I think on Saturday we are going to come out so strong and prove that we are a good contender,” said top line left winger Abigail Boreen.
Harvard-Minnesota Duluth game will be held on Thursday, tentatively at 6 p.m., with the winner facing the Gophers on Saturday, tentatively at 2 p.m. The semifinal winner advances to the Frozen Four, which will be played March 18-20 at Pegula Ice Arena in State College, Pa. The Gophers last won a NCAA title in 2016. They fell to arch rival Wisconsin in the 2019 title game.