It’s March in Minneapolis, and for fans of the Minnesota women’s ice hockey team, this month has a single meaning: championship time.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Gophers (33-3-4, 22-2-4 WCHA) will suit up for a national title matchup. This season’s edition features Harvard (27-5-3, 16-4-2 ECAC), which is a rerun of championship bouts in 2004 and 2005.
Minnesota won both those contests, giving the team two of its five overall national titles.
The Gophers’ dominance extends outside of matchups against the Crimson. In each of the past three years, Minnesota has taken a share of the WCHA crown, quite possibly the toughest divisional prize in college hockey.
Over the past several years, the Gophers have been the masters of the Midwest, the New York Yankees of women’s hockey. And with the team’s top four point-getters slated to return next year, the tradition of success shows no signs of ending.
“To make it to the national championship four years in a row, it’s remarkable,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “I know our team is very excited, especially to be able to advance and do that at home.”
Just how good are these Gophers?
Ask recent history, and the answer will come back without hesitation: practically unbeatable.
Between Feb. 17, 2012 and Nov. 17, 2013, Minnesota played 62 games without a loss, an NCAA record. Only six contests were decided by a margin of one goal.
This stretch included the 2012-13 campaign, which inarguably stands as the most impressive year of women’s hockey ever played. The Gophers earned an overall 41-0-0 mark and ended the season with a championship photo-shoot in Ridder Arena in late March.
Even when North Dakota broke the perfect streak with a 3-2 win the next year, Minnesota needed little time to recover. The Gophers ripped off a 19-0-1 run to close out the regular season and returned to the title match a month later.
“These kids are never about themselves,” Frost said. “When you get a bunch of great people on a team, then the organization creates a culture that’s pretty darn special.”
This year’s squad, which boasted a 19-game unbeaten streak at one point, is a beneficiary of this culture. It’s not just that Minnesota wins, but that the wins are so lopsided: the Gophers have outscored opponents 180-47, including a 42-12 advantage in power-play scores.
As much as Minnesota has distinguished itself as a unit, the Gophers are just as impressive as a collection of individuals.