Expectations were high for the Minnesota Gophers heading into the 2012-2013 season. Fresh off convincing WCHA and national championship titles, the Gophers were popular favorites to repeat this year. They didn’t just meet those expectations, however; they far exceeded them, and in the process became the best team the women’s college hockey world has seen to date.
Coming into the year, Minnesota projected to be a very good team once again. They looked, on paper, like they could be a great team, if everything fell into place. And that is perhaps the most impressive thing about this team and it’s 41-0-0 run to perfection. Coming into the year, the Gophers had lost a top-pairing defenseman in Anne Schleper, three top-six forwards in Sarah Erickson, Jen Schoullis, and Emily West, and 202 total points. Usually after so many drastic changes it takes a while for a team to come together and realize its potential. Usually there are adjustments to be made, and unavoidable bumps in the road to be encountered. But those things didn’t culminate in a single defeat for Minnesota this year. Despite those losses, they were this good. They were perfect. They were the best.
But what, exactly, makes this Gophers team the best ever? Certainly, there have been teams with better numbers in all categories: offense, defense, special teams. Minnesota, however, was excellent in every single area, something that we haven’t seen from any other squad in any other year. For instance, the Gophers’ total goals scored (216) and goals per game average (5.27) rank third and fourth all-time respectively in the NCAA Division I record books, behind the Harvard and Minnesota-Duluth squads of 2002-2003 and, in the latter category, Minnesota-Duluth’s 2000-2001 team. But none of those three teams even crack the top-15 in fewest goals allowed per game, whereas the 2012-2013 Gophers are tied for first all-time in that category, having given up only 0.88 goals per game this year. And no other team ranked in the top-five in fewest goals allowed per game is in the top-15 in total goals scored in a season or in goals per game average.
Minnesota’s penalty kill isn’t one of the best all-time, but it still registered a 90.3% success rate, which is way above decent anyway. Oh, and there’s also the fun little fact that they almost outscored other teams while killing penalties, scoring 14 shorthanded goals and only giving up 15 power play goals over the course of the year. Speaking of power plays, this Gophers team converted 32.2% of its power play opportunities, breaking the previous NCAA record of 31% held by the school’s 2004-2005 squad.
In a real testament to Minnesota’s undeniable strengths in all areas, their trio of defenseman Megan Bozek, forward Amanda Kessel, and goaltender Noora Räty were all named top-three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. It was the first time in history that all three finalists represented the same school. Bozek superbly anchored the defensive corps this year, becoming the first defenseman finalist for the award since the legendary Angela Ruggiero won it in 2004. Kessel, the eventual winner, is just the fourth player in history to score 100 points in a single season, and is now 73 points away from becoming the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer. Räty has re-written the goaltending record books with every save and shutout over the course of her career.
And then there is that one final statistic, the nail in the coffin of any counterargument to Minnesota being the best ever. Their 41-0-0 record. A perfect season. An accomplishment that no other team in the history of Division I women’s hockey has been able to achieve. The amount of sheer winning that this team was able to do is in itself pretty remarkable; their 49-game win streak dating back to February 2012 has shattered previous record-setting winning and unbeaten streaks. But it’s that perfect record that sticks out the most.
The ability to execute is the mark of nearly every great team. You’ve got to be able to come through, to stay composed, to score that goal or make that defensive play in order to win a game. But the ability to execute like that, every single night, is a mark of greatness that no other team has been able to reach. Some might say the Gophers were lucky; they had to be, right? But luck works both ways, and they were so good that bad luck was never a factor, for 49 straight games.
The 2012-2013 Minnesota Golden Gophers are, without question, in a class all by themselves. They have set the standard for all future teams. They were the emblem of perfection, not just in women’s hockey but in all of hockey, and all of sports. You can chalk it up to the players, from the array of world-class talent to the freshmen who stepped up, from the Patty Kazmaier Award nominees to the bottom-pairing defensemen. And you can definitely chalk it up to head coach Brad Frost and his coaching staff, and the wonderful job they did preparing the Gophers. They all have left no doubt: they are the best Division I women’s hockey team we’ve ever seen, and they earned that distinction in spectacular fashion.
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).