Ex-Minnesota great takes aim at Gophers

Courtesy Minnesota Athletics

Noora Raty has 43 career shutouts but will be challenged by Boston College, which is averaging 4.36 goals per game.

Minnesota and North Dakota already were under way in their memorable NCAA women's hockey quarterfinal last Saturday when Courtney Kennedy, the Boston College associate head coach, arrived home in Somerville, Mass. So she fired up her laptop, found a live stream of the game and settled in.

With Boston College safely into its third consecutive NCAA women's Frozen Four after beating Harvard 3-1, Kennedy flirted between obligation and emotion as she watched the teams tangle into one overtime, then a second, then a third.

The obligation: scouting the game, because the Eagles would face the winner in Friday's semifinals at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. The emotion: Kennedy's image is plastered all over Ridder Arena, Minnesota's campus rink, befitting one of the best defensemen the program has ever produced.

One guess which team she rooted for.

"I definitely wanted Minnesota to win the game," Kennedy said. "I didn't want them to lose on some [fluky] goal."

Kennedy got her wish. Kelly Terry's power-play goal decided the longest game in Minnesota history 3-2 at 18:51 of the third overtime. That put the defending national champion Golden Gophers (39-0) two victories short of completing the first unbeaten season in Division I since the NCAA sanctioned a women's hockey championship in 2000-01. Only one men's national champion, Cornell in 1970, finished undefeated (29-0).

The Eagles (27-6-3) get first crack at ending the Gophers' NCAA-record 47-game winning streak in Friday's early semifinal. Mercyhurst (29-6-1) and Boston University (27-5-3) meet later, with the winners playing for the national championship Sunday afternoon.

"Obviously, I have a special place in my heart for Minnesota," Kennedy said. "I loved the school and my experience there. It's awesome to go back and play them and compete for something bigger than ourselves."

We’re not going to change anything. We have a good group. I’m pretty confident in our defensive corps to do a good job and give our team a chance to win.
Courtney Kennedy

Few defensemen in Gophers history have impacted the program like Kennedy, who transferred in after one season at Colby College in Maine. Coach Laura Halldorson, a Minnesota native, recruited Kennedy to Colby in 1996 before coming home to start the Gophers' program, and Kennedy and her sister Shannon joined Halldorson for the 1998-99 season.

Two enormous murals inside Ridder Arena -- one of All-Americans, another of Olympians -- feature Kennedy, a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the nation's top player in 2001 who won silver and bronze medals at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics, respectively. Kennedy scored 112 points in 106 games at Minnesota and posted a remarkable plus-50 mark in 2000, when the Gophers won the last American Women's College Hockey Alliance national championship. She was elected to the university's athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.

"Courtney was one of the best defensemen to ever play here," said Minnesota coach Brad Frost, who briefly coached Kennedy as a Minnesota assistant to Halldorson. "Big, strong, great shot, a fierce competitor and just an awesome, awesome person."

Kennedy coached three seasons at a Cambridge, Mass., prep school before former Olympic teammate Katie King Crowley hired her at BC in 2007. This won't be her first time back to Ridder as a coach; the Eagles lost a 2009 NCAA quarterfinal there. Now she and Crowley must figure out how to slow her old team.

Courtesy Minnesota Athletics

Amanda Kessel needs three points to record the fourth 100-point season in NCAA women’s hockey history.

Boston College, Boston University and Mercyhurst have history working against them. No team from outside the Western Collegiate Hockey Association has won the Frozen Four, and three schools hog all the titles: Minnesota-Duluth (5), Wisconsin (4) and Minnesota (3). Boston College has been to three previous Frozen Fours and lost each time in the semifinals.

This season Minnesota put together such an extensive list of records and accomplishments that North Dakota coach Brian Idalski applauded his team last Saturday for nearly knocking off "arguably the best women's hockey team in the history of the game."

Besides scoring the most goals in the country and allowing the fewest, the Gophers more than doubled the previous-best NCAA winning streak, Harvard's 21-game run in 2008. Minnesota also owns NCAA records for most victories in a season and consecutive victories on the road (25). And Saturday marked Minnesota's 25th consecutive home victory, tying Harvard's NCAA-best streak, set from March 2002 to January 2004.

Individually, speedy junior right wing Amanda Kessel leads the nation with 44 goals, 53 assists and 97 points, leaving her three points short of the fourth 100-point season in NCAA women's hockey history.

Kessel and two freshmen, center Hannah Brandt (31-49-80) and left wing Maryanne Menefee (16-19-35), make up the highest-scoring line in the country. Brandt tops all freshmen in scoring and ranks fourth overall. Kessel, senior goalie Noora Raty and senior defensemen Megan Bozek are also Patty Kazmaier finalists, making this the first time all three have come from the same school. Raty, a two-time Olympian from Finland, owns NCAA records for shutouts in a season (17) and career (43).

Courtesy Boston College Athletics

Sophomore Alex Carpenter was named the Hockey East Player of the Year.

But BC can score too, averaging 4.36 goals per game, second to the Gophers (5.31). Hockey East Player of the Year Alex Carpenter, a sophomore, scored 32 goals in a school-record 69-point season, while top freshman Haley Skarupa added 24 goals and sophomore Emily Field 15.

Since Minnesota, as the home team, will get the last line change on faceoffs, Crowley can't match her best defensive line against Kessel's. Frost said last change benefited BC two years ago when the Eagles routed Minnesota 4-1 in an NCAA quarterfinal in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Ashley Motherwell, now a senior, scored 24 seconds into the game after a shaky Raty misplayed a puck behind the net. That triggered a four-goal first period.

"We were excited to play someone new and see what they had, but we didn't come ready and prepared at all," said Bozek, who assisted on the only Minnesota goal. "We knew in the first period, when a fluky goal goes in 20 seconds into the game, that they were ready to play and they weren't going to give up. I think there was a big regret and disappointment that we let them get to us that early."

Kennedy coaches the defensemen, and it will be up to them to clear the front of the net for Corinne Boyles, Hockey East's top goaltender, whose 1.79 goals-against average ranks 12th nationally.

"We're not going to change anything," Kennedy said. "We have a good group. I'm pretty confident in our defensive corps to do a good job and give our team a chance to win."

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