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Women's Frozen Four 2013: Minnesota creates history after 'impossible' season

The Minnesota Golden Gophers completed the impossible season: Going 41-0-0 and winning their second-straight national championship.

Amanda Kessel might just be the best Kessel.
Amanda Kessel might just be the best Kessel.
Michelle Jay. Used with permission.

MINNEAPOLIS - Before Sunday's NCAA championship game, University of Minnesota coach Brad Frost gathered his team into a huddle like he would for any other game. This time, however, he had his players close their eyes, and, for three seconds, he let them imagine the end goal - tossing their gloves into the air, piling on top of each other and making history.

Then, he told them to stop thinking about it.

"Now here's the thing that we have to do," Frost said, as he relayed the Gopher's pregame routine to reporters after the contest. "Here's our goals: three or less penalties a game. Let's pressure them on the forecheck. Simple puck movement on the PP. Pressure on the PK.

"Whatever it is, we have our eight things, and those are some of them. That's the process of winning a hockey game for us, that's the blue print, and so that's what we talked about."

For the 41st time this season, and for the 49th straight time since February 2012, that game plane worked. The Golden Gophers jumped out to an early lead and defeated No. 2 Boston University 6-3 in front of a sold out crowd at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minn.

Minnesota did not, however, just win its second-straight national championship title this past weekend. Instead it went undefeated, becoming the first women's team to do so since the NCAA sanctioned the sport in 2001, and the first team overall to accomplish the task since the Cornell men in 1970.

"It's just unbelievable," said junior forward Amanda Kessel, who led the Gophers and the nation in points with 101 this season. "I said it before, I thought it was impossible. But, as we can see, it wasn't impossible, and we made the impossible possible."

The unlikely streak began on Feb. 18 2012, one game after Minnesota dropped a 2-1 overtime contest to one of its biggest rivals, the University of North Dakota. From there, the Gophers went on a tear, winning eight straight games and ending their season with a 4-2 win over another rival - the University of Wisconsin - in the national championship game.

The championship win was the team's first since 2005 and allowed the team to accomplish its season-long motto of "Prove it."

"I was sick of our players telling me how good our team was, and then we would never win," Frost said. "So last year they had to prove it.

"This year it was, ‘Leave no doubt.'"

By mid-November of the 2012-13 season, the Gophers started to drive home the idea that no one should doubt the skill in their locker room. In a 9-1 win over Minnesota State - Mankato on Nov. 17, the team picked up its 22nd straight win. Suddenly, the Gophers were in the record books with the longest winning streak in women's history. The marker put Minnesota over the previous record of 21 straight wins set by Harvard University in 2008.

At that point into the season, Minnesota had outscored its opponents 84-8.

With a roster stacked at each position, the Gophers cruised past their opponents. On one line alone they had two of the top point scorers in the nation in Kessel and freshman Hannah Brandt.

Their defense allowed on average less than one goal per game with some help from Patty Kazmaier finalist, captain and senior Megan Bozek.

If anything made its way through the Minnesota defense, the team had Finnish Olympic team goaltender Noora Räty to stop the shot. Something she wound up doing more than 95 percent of the time.

The Gophers kept winning, giving up no more than three goals in a game, and on Jan. 19, the team broke two records. On an individual level, Kessel picked up her 200th career point, becoming only the 24th player in NCAA history to do so.

More importantly, the team tied the NCAA unbeaten streak in typical Gopher fashion, defeating Minnesota State 6-0.

Minnesota then broke the record against the team that held it when they picked up a 2-0 win over Wisconsin the next weekend.

Next came the WCHA regular season title that allowed the Gophers to become the first team to go undefeated in regular season in the NCAA. Then a 2-0 win over North Dakota for the WCHA tournament.

Still, all of this came without a loss.

"We just got on a roll," Frost said. "I don't know how to explain it. It was just, ‘OK we won. Yup. Now let's go onto the next game,' and ‘OK we won that one, let's keep doing what we're doing.'"

The undefeated season, according to Frost, did not seem to weigh on his team until the final week when the pressure to not just win, but return to the Frozen Four in its own building began to mount.

It took almost three extra periods for the Gophers to get to the Frozen Four after a pesky North Dakota team attempted to remind Minnesota who had delivered it the team's last loss. With 1:09 remaining in triple overtime, however, junior forward Kelly Terry delivered the game-winner. The number moved its way up to 39 on the season and 47 straight.

Hockey East team Boston College proved another challenge for the Gophers, and pushed Minnesota into overtime for the second straight game during the NCAA semifinal. The Eagles even held a lead over the Gophers for close to four minutes - something teams had only done for 63 minutes, and 27 seconds before the game.

This time it only took 1:39 of overtime for junior forward Sarah Davis to find the back of the net.

Kessel neglected to register a point in the semifinal game for just the second time this season. But, after winning the Patty Kazmaier award on Saturday, Kessel looked more like herself in the title game despite still not being 100 percent with undisclosed injuries.

It wasn't just Kessel, however, that clicked on Sunday when the Gophers defeated BU. Minnesota jumped out to an early lead, Räty stood on her head and after a goal by sophomore defenseman Rachel Ramsey with fewer than five minutes left put the Gophers up 5-2, Minnesota sealed the win.

"I still remember on day one talking to our players about the importance of the process, and not the outcome," Frost said. "I made a comment such as ‘We're gonna lose a hockey game, and so it's not always about the wins and loses. Let's focus on the process of those things.' And here we are 41 games later without a loss, and it's just mindboggling."