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Feature

Bobbi Ross scores on a penalty shot against New Hampshire.

Gophers sophomore Bobbi Ross scores on New Hampshire goalie Melissa Boudron in the first-ever penalty shot in a Frozen Four. Ross's goal--her third of four for the evening--tied the game at 3-3 in the second period.

Women skaters fall just short of three-peat

By Rick Moore

March 27, 2006

On the same weekend the University of Minnesota men's hockey team suffered an improbable, if not insufferable, loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament to unheralded Holy Cross, the Gophers women's hockey team came within a game of winning a third straight national title Sunday at Mariucci Arena.

The Gophers placed themselves in position for an unexpected three-peat with a 5-4 win Friday evening over top-ranked New Hampshire. The Wildcats had entered the game with an NCAA-record 29-game unbeaten streak, which included 17 straight victories. That put Minnesota in the title game Sunday against second-ranked Wisconsin, which had beaten the Gophers in four of five previous meetings this season.

The Gophers had no answer for the Badgers in the sixth meeting, either. Wisconsin scored two goals in the first period (one on a power play), tacked on another power-play goal in the second, and coasted to its first-ever national championship, 3-0, behind a second consecutive shutout by Badger freshman goalie Jessie Vetter.

A three-peat by the Gophers would have matched the accomplishment of the UMD Bulldogs, who won the first three Frozen Four titles in 2001, 2002, and 2003.

Friday's semifinal against New Hampshire was an electric, free-skating affair, and sophomore left winger Bobbi Ross provided most of the power. She scored four goals--the first time that's been accomplished in a Frozen Four game--and for the last two periods generated a buzz whenever she touched the puck. Her two first-period goals gave the Gophers an early lead, and after New Hampshire answered with three straight goals, Ross responded with what proved to be a pivotal goal.

With two New Hampshire skaters already in the penalty box, the Gophers were awarded a penalty shot when a Wildcat player covered the puck after a scramble in the crease. The red-hot Ross was tagged to take the Frozen Four's first-ever penalty shot, and the tension built as she stood at center ice while a referee gave instructions to New Hampshire goalie Melissa Boudron. Finally, Ross moved in, deked Boudron to the ice, and scored on her backhand, the same move she had made on her second goal.

"It was kind of funny, because the last practice we had there was some free time at the end and I used that move three times in a row," Ross said after the game. "So, I am not very creative but it worked. I had no doubt in my mind which move I was going to do I just hoped she [Bourdon] didn't read it."

Junior Becky Wacker slid in a rebound at 2:27 of the third period to give the Gophers a 4-3 lead, but the Wildcats tied it at 12:11 on their second power-play goal of the game. That set up more heroics from Ross, who had come within inches of another goal late in the second period when her shot clanked off the crossbar. Her fourth goal (Ross also scored four goals against Ohio State earlier this year), with 1:51 remaining, put Minnesota into the championship game.

Minnesota was playing in its fifth straight Frozen Four. A three-peat by the Gophers would have matched the accomplishment of the UMD Bulldogs, who won the first three Frozen Four titles in 2001, 2002, and 2003. The win by the Badgers ensures that the tournament trophy stays in the west for another year. All six Frozen Four titles have been won by a team from the WCHA (Western Collegiate Hockey Association).

Despite the loss to Wisconsin in the title game, it was generally agreed that this year's Gophers team exceeded its expectations, especially given the loss of its top three scorers from last season.

"Coming into this game, second place definitely wasn't our goal," Ross said in the postgame news conference. "For today's game we are unsatisfied, but once we get a few days to get over this loss, looking back on this season there will be a whole lot to be proud of. Every single individual on our team can be so proud of themselves and everything they did this season. So in that respect, today aside, we accomplished so much more than anyone thought we would." The attendance for Sunday's championship game was 4,701, second best for a Frozen Four game. (The record of 5,167 was set in 2003 in Duluth.) The two-day attendance for the 2006 Frozen Four was 7,577, 2,391 behind the record in 2003 but eclipsing the mark of 5,178 in 2001, the last time the championship was in Minneapolis.