#1 Minnesota (40-0-0) vs. #3 Boston University (28-5-3)
Sunday, March 24th at 4:00 PM E.T.
The game can be viewed live through NCAA.com.
Head-to-head: N/A (did not play each other)
The Terriers are the final hurdle standing in the way of Minnesota’s perfect season, but can they do enough to hand them their first loss of the year? The Gophers have faced plenty of adversity on their way through the NCAA Tournament. Throughout the year they had their way with most teams, but it took everything they had to gut out wins against North Dakota in the quarterfinals (3-2 in triple overtime) and Boston College in the semifinals (3-2 in overtime). They can certainly expect the same level of competition from Boston University.
On Friday night, Minnesota entered the third period down a goal for the first time all season, after Boston College’s Emily Field scored on the power play towards the end of the second. The Gophers re-grouped and grabbed a 2-1 lead in the middle of the third period, but the Eagles were able to answer and tie the game with a little more than five minutes left in regulation. Sarah Davis sealed Minnesota’s ticket to the championship just 1:39 into the extra frame.
Boston University’s games so far have not come down to the wire like their opponent’s. In both the quarterfinals and semifinals, they didn’t really have a problem scoring goals, so they were able to give themselves a little breathing room. On Friday against Mercyhurst, they kept piling on the offense until they built up a 4-0 lead. The Lakers’ Christie Cicero was able to net one in the third, but it was just too little, too late for her and her team.
For Frozen Four semifinal highlights, please click here.
Match-ups to Watch For
Special Teams: Considering how they’re leading the nation in almost every statistical category, it should come as no surprise that the Gophers have got the nation’s best power play (31.84%) and second-best penalty kill (91.4%). Those are insane numbers, and certainly better than the Terriers’, which could pose a problem for Boston University. They’ve got fairly mediocre special teams units (20.3% power play, 86.5% penalty kill), but that just might not be good enough against Minnesota.
The biggest reason for the Gophers’ success on the power play and BU’s lack thereof? Puck-moving defensemen. Minnesota has Patty Kazmaier Award finalist Megan Bozek running their power play, and Rachel Ramsey and Mira Jalosuo besides her. Boston University has Shannon Doyle, but not much else after her, and Doyle doesn’t have the same vision as Bozek.
Although the Terriers have yet to score a goal on the man-advantage in this tournament, they’ve killed off every penalty successfully. So Boston University might not be able to win both special teams battles, but it’ll be interesting to see how the game goes if they’re able to make power play goals a non-factor. As for Minnesota, they might be able to end the Terriers’ hopes if they dominate special teams.
Offense: Both teams’ top-sixes are extremely talented, productive, and fun to watch. When they’re clicking, neither the BU offense or the Minnesota offense has much of a problem scoring on anyone. The Gophers are led by 2013 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner Amanda Kessel, who enters the game just three points shy of the century mark on the season, with 44 goals and 53 assists. Backing her up are Hannah Brandt, Maryanne Menefee, Kelly Terry, Becky Kortum, and Rachael Bona.
The Terriers are led by junior captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who’s got 18 goals and 35 assists for 53 points so far this year. She might not be as potent a scorer as Kesse on paper, but I think she’s just as talented. She also brings a lot to the table besides offense; Poulin is one of the best face-off women and shot-blockers in the country. Jenelle Kohanchuk, Isabel Menard, Sarah Lefort, Louise Warren, and Kayla Tutino round out the rest of the Terriers’ top two lines.
The match-up between these 12 players is going to be very exciting. The Gophers probably have a little bit more depth than Boston University, but these are the players who have the potential to do the most damage for each team. The national championship could very well come down to which of these top-sixes is able to control the puck the most and put on the most pressure against each other.
Goaltending: If the Terriers’ offense is able to match the Gophers’, or even best them, they’re going to have to find ways to beat Noora Räty. Räty is an absolutely formidable goalie; she makes save after game-changing save to wear down her opponents’ confidence. She is arguably the best netminder in the world and has seemingly zero weaknesses.
Boston University goaltender Kerrin Sperry doesn’t have the numbers or the reputation to compete with Räty. If Räty is the best goalie in the world, Sperry is simply a slightly-above-average challenger. But that’s according to the numbers, and once the puck drops, that all goes out the window. Sperry knows how to put up lights-out performances; she knows how to stand on her head; she knows how to win games. She just needs to play well enough to win one game, and she’s got the ability to do that, no matter who’s in net at the other end.
Key Players for Boston University
- Marie-Philip Poulin, F: She had a goal, an assist, and a team-leading five shots against Mercyhurst and she’s going to be just as important to the Terriers here as she was against the Lakers, if not more.
- Kayla Tutino, F: The sophomore has been a bit streaky this season, but BU’s second line becomes that much better if she’s really on her game and creating chances.
Key Players for Minnesota
- Noora Räty, G: She’s got the ability, more than any other Minnesota player, to stamp out Boston University’s hopes of winning the NCAA title. They’ve got almost no chance at a victory if they can’t score on her.
- Hannah Brandt, F: The freshman can really make things difficult for the Terriers’ defense, particularly in front of the net, where she’s proven to be quite a nuisance for most teams.
Overall, the national championship game should be a very entertaining contest. Minnesota has a lot to play for; they come in as the easy favorites, and they’re playing for an undefeated season, and they would be the first team in history to ever accomplish that. But even though they’ve had a great season so far, it really does all come down to this. None of the other wins will matter as much if they can’t get this one. But there’s no reason why they can’t repeat as national champions. They’re strong at every position, and they’ve shown that they can find a way to win no matter what.
And Boston University can’t be counted out just because they’re the underdogs. They’ve got a great team philosophy, and they know how to come through in the postseason. They’ve shown it time and time again; this is their second national title game appearance in three years, and they’ve won two Hockey East tournament championships in a row. Their best players tend to be their best players in the biggest games, and this one is huge. The Terriers are going to give the Gophers all they’ve got, and it should end up being a national championship game that no one will want to miss.
Gabriella is now in her third season of covering NCAA and international women’s hockey for The Hockey Writers. She is the founding editor of At Even Strength, a website dedicated to providing full-time coverage and analysis of women’s hockey. She is currently working towards a degree in Communication at the University of North Dakota, and is also interning with UND Athletic Media Relations. She can be reached on Twitter (@gabfun) or via e-mail (gfundaro10 [at] gmail [dot] com).