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Gophers women to play for third straight hockey title after comeback win

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HAMDEN, Conn. — The Gophers women’s hockey team has been so dominant this season that comebacks haven’t been required — until the Women’s Frozen Four semifinal Friday against Wisconsin.

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Trailing 3-2 after two periods, the top-seeded Gophers got goals from Hannah Brandt and Rachael Bona to preserve their chance at a third consecutive national title with a 5-3 victory at TD Bank Sports Center. Minnesota (38-1-1) will play Mercyhurst or Clarkson for the championship at 2 p.m. Sunday.

“I think that we have a belief in each other and in ourselves that we are going to get the job done,” said Brandt, who scored the tying goal on a power play at 5:37 in the third period. “That’s probably why we’ve been as successful even when we are down.”

Bona scored the game-winner less than three minutes later at 8:06. The Gophers have steamrolled through most of the season, but they looked derailed early, trailing 1-0 after the first period and 3-2 after two.

“It was not looking good there through a couple periods,” said Gophers coach Brad Frost. “I was frustrated with our players and the way they were playing. And they were frustrated, but as we talked about it between periods, the last thing you want to do is look back on this game and have some regrets.”

Goals from Brandt and Bona, two of the top 10 finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award given to the nation’s best player, came through at the biggest time.

“We challenged our seniors and our All-Americans and our Kaz finalists to step up there in the third, and I thought all of them did that,” Frost said.

The Gophers increased their unbeaten streak to 26 games and their winning streak over the WCHA rival Badgers to 11, which also includes the 2012 title game.

In another era, the rivalry was all Badgers, with title wins in 2011 and 2009.

“I remember five years ago when Wisconsin just owned us, they just believed that they were going to beat us and we found a way to not win,” Frost said. “And right now, we’ve got that belief.”

It didn’t look promising after 40 minutes, however. The Gophers have two blemishes on the season, and both have come when they’ve trailed after two periods. Before Friday, they were 0-1-1 in those games and 37-0 when they led or were tied.

“That was unbelievable,” Frost said. “I hope everybody enjoyed the game. If you didn’t, I’m not sure what needs to happen for people to enjoy it.”

In the first period, Badgers leading scorer Brittany Ammerman gave Wisconsin the lead with an unassisted goal at 18:38. No Gophers defender picked her up as she came over the right circle, and she beat Gophers goalie Amanda Leveille.

The Badgers were beating the Gophers to loose pucks and sparking many man advantages or breakaway chances, and coach Mark Johnson left the ice thinking it should have been 3-0.

“We had good opportunities and came out with great energy,” Johnson said. “We had them on their heels a little bit, and you need to capitalize.”

The Badgers outshot the Gophers 16-7 in the first period.

“They were all over us in the first,” Frost said. “We were dead in the water. Lev made some great saves and kept it a ballgame.”

Trailing after the first period for only the fourth time this season, the Gophers stormed out to start the second period. Only 33 seconds in, Kelly Terry buried the rebound after teammate Dani Cameranesi’s shot hit the post. Terry, who had a hat trick in the quarterfinal win over Boston University, then assisted on Maryanne Menefee’s goal that gave the Gophers a 2-1 lead at 2:12.

The Badgers regained the lead in the final four minutes of the second period, with goals from Katy Josephs and Karley Sylvester.

After Bona and Brandt scored, Baylee Gillanders made it a two-goal game at 17:32 in the third period.

“We flipped a switch and once we got that tying goal, everything started to happen for us,” Frost said. “We found another gear that we didn’t have in the first two periods.”

In four previous meetings this season, the Badgers had held the Gophers about two goals under their season average (4.7). The Gophers broke past that as they are wont to do.

“(The players) persevered and started playing the way we know they can,” Frost said. “They believed they could get the job done and they found a way to do it.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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