In winning the last two national championships, the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team had the shortest trip of the teams competing in the Frozen Four both years. This year, the Golden Gophers will travel the farthest of the four squads converging on Hamden, Conn., this weekend.
Among the Gophers’ traveling party is Bethany Brausen, a Little Canada native and Roseville Area High School graduate who is looking to close out her college hockey career with one final title. She helped Minnesota win it all in Duluth in 2012 and in Minneapolis last year.
The travel will be a bit more grueling this year and the crowds won’t be as friendly but for Brausen, raising the trophy a third time is still the goal.
“I do think it’s going to be a completely different atmosphere,” said Brausen. “It’s exciting to get to a Frozen Four but something definitely special about making a long trip out and making it really feel like that tournament feel. I think everyone’s looking forward to the trip.”
Brausen and company clinched their third consecutive Frozen Four berth by beating Boston University 5-1 in the national quarterfinals on Saturday at Ridder Arena. Brausen’s linemate and fellow senior Kelly Terry recorded a hat trick to propel the Gophers.
“It was a really, really great game for the team and the line had a fun time, too,” Brausen said. “You can’t be much happier with that.”
The seniors on the team have played in four NCAA tournaments and have been successful in two of them. With only one weekend left in the season and their careers, they’re trying to absorb it all one last time.
“It seems like, and I think everyone would agree with me, that your senior year seems to go a little bit quicker,” Brausen said. “You can’t slow it down, as much you want to, but we’re trying to take every moment in. Obviously we’ve had a lot of good ones so far but we’re hoping the best are to come.”
In her freshman season, Brausen played in the NCAA tournament but Minnesota lost to Boston College in the quarterfinals. The Gophers used that loss as motivation the next year (2012) and won the national title for the first time since 2005. Last year, Minnesota had a season for the ages by going undefeated (41-0) and claiming a second consecutive title.
Heading into this season, the Gophers needed to replace plenty of high-end talent, including All-American goaltender Nora Raty, All-American defenseman Megan Bozek and All-American forward Amanda Kessel. All three played in the Olympics earlier this year.
With that kind of talent gone, there was a question whether Minnesota could keep up the pace it set by going unbeaten last year. Ultimately it wasn’t able to but it also wasn’t off by much either. The Gophers lost just once this season and played to a tie one other time. Otherwise, it was more of the same: win, win, win.
“It seems like over the last few years we’ve felt that way coming into the season,” said Brausen. “There’s some apprehension and anxiety. We don’t know how it’s going to look and then we’ve just performed every year. I think tradition starts to breed itself when you have teams that are so successful, those same players that return know that feeling and they know what it takes to get there. It makes a strong team stronger in that way and you can see over that last few years that’s what we’ve been building.”
Minnesota enters the Frozen Four on a 17-game winning streak and has gone 25 games without an official loss. The Gophers tied Ohio State on Jan. 11 and went on to lose the shootout but for official purposes the result of the game is a tie. Minnesota’s only loss in the last two seasons came on Nov. 17 in a 3-2 defeat at the hands of North Dakota.
When the Gophers take the ice on Friday in Connecticut, they’ll line up against a familiar foe. Rival Wisconsin, which edged Harvard 2-1 in the quarterfinals, is joining Minnesota at the Frozen Four and the winner will advance to Sunday’s final against either Mercyhurst or Clarkson. Mercyhurst upset Cornell 3-2 and Clarkson topped Boston College 3-1 in the quarterfinals.
Minnesota and Wisconsin have already faced each other four times this season with the Gophers claiming victory in all four contests. The first two were in October at Ridder Arena and Minnesota won those 2-1 and 2-0. They met again in February in Madison and the Gophers won those games 3-2 and 4-0 to clinch the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season title.
When Brausen steps on the ice for the game on Friday, she’ll become the Gophers’ all-time leader in games played. She and fellow senior Baylee Gillanders have played in 159 games at Minnesota and are currently tied with Anne Schleper (2008-12).
The trip to the Frozen Four will conclude a whirlwind two weeks that included a WCHA tournament title, a trip to the White House for a ceremony in honor of last year’s national championship and a national quarterfinal victory.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Brausen. “No matter who the opponent is, we’re looking to get another national title and whoever comes in our way, we’re hoping to knock them right off.”
Other Raiders at the Frozen Four
Brausen is just one of three former Raiders in the Frozen Four this year. One of her teammates is freshman Kate Flug, who was Roseville’s leading scorer the three years right after Brausen graduated and moved to the Gophers.
Flug is a fourth-line forward for Minnesota and has appeared in 33 of 39 games this season. She has two goals and three assists and could be closing in on a national title.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Flug said. “Obviously they’ve been to the Frozen Four the last two years. Still, being a freshman and being new to the team, it’s a really exciting experience to participate in that.”
Flug missed a few games early in the season while recovering from surgery from a torn meniscus in her knee and has had to get used to a different role than she was used to in high school.
“It’s a different adjustment,” said Flug. “Coming off a surgery at the beginning of the season and getting back halfway through, it was kind of tough the first couple of weeks. You’re changing your mindset for the season. Everyone has a role and you have to accept it.”
Despite the slow start and role change, the year has been enjoyable.
“So far my freshman year has been unbelievable,” Flug said. “Great teammates, great coaches. Couldn’t ask for a better team.”
Clarkson also features a former Roseville player. Jenna Boss is a junior goaltender for the Golden Knights.
Boss, a 2011 Roseville grad, has appeared in only one game for Clarkson in her career while playing behind a senior netminder who has played in 138 games.
There could have been one more former Raider playing this weekend but Lee Stecklein, a 2012 Roseville grad, took the season off to compete with the U.S. national team. Stecklein made Team USA and won a silver medal in the Olympic games in Sochi, Russia.
Brian Meyers can be reached at email@example.com .