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A couple of seniors named Amanda pushed Minnesota past North Dakota and into the championship game of the WCHA Final Face-Off.
Amanda Kessel had a goal and an assist in the 2-0 victory, and Amanda Leveille made 21 saves as the Gophers (32-3-1) moved on to a showdown with Wisconsin.
“I think our teams are very much mirror images of each other,” coach Brad Frost said. “It’s just going to be a great hockey game tomorrow.”
Kessel had the primary assist on Sydney Baldwin’s power-play goal to open the scoring in the first period.
“She’s got an incredible shot,” Frost said of Baldwin. “Her snap shot is as good as anybody’s.”
Kessel added some insurance midway through the second stanza.
“Skate to stick and I’m facedown on the ice, and I look up, and I just see a puck in the air and it’s behind the line,” she said. “Those are the kind of goals that we’re going to get here in playoffs.”
From the North Dakota (18-12-5) perspective, there wasn’t a lot to say.
“Tough game,” was the entirety of the opening statement from coach Brian Idalski.
The game swung on a few important moments.
“We would have preferred to play a little more five-on-five —- try to get our legs going,” Idalski said. “It was a bit of a choppy game with special teams, and I don’t think that necessarily played into our benefit in any way, shape, or form. Their power play is terrific. I don’t really want to give them opportunities like we did today.”
UND held the Gophers’ power play to one conversion in four attempts, below its season average, but that tally had the hosts playing with a lead once 13:16 had elapsed.
“Their five-on-three kill to start the third period was a huge momentum swing,” Idalski said. “Really didn’t allow us to get anything going there.”
He was asked for the keys to how Minnesota was able to kill the 1:42 when it was two skaters down.
“I’ll give you a couple,” Idalski said. “It was Hannah Brandt and Amanda Kessel. They were reading properly. They were stepping up and being super aggressive and challenging us, and really didn’t let us have any space. As a five-on-three, that was a little demoralizing.”
The Fighting Hawks appeared to have given themselves a chance late. After being stuck in their zone by Minnesota’s forecheck for several minutes, they finally got Shebly Amsley-Benzie, who finished with 32 saves, off for an extra attacker and poked home a rebound.
“I had no idea there was even any controversy or opportunity for that to be waved off,” Idalski said. “They just said she was in the crease; it wasn’t a good goal. That was pretty much the end of it.”
That reversal preserved Leveille’s 32nd shutout as a Gopher.
“I’m very confident in the team in front of me,” she said. “Knowing that I have three players, or four players, or five players in front of me, I’m always very excited to play, because I know my team is going to be there for me. I didn’t get a shot in the five on three, and that just speaks volumes to how talented our team is.”
Season-champ Wisconsin stands between that team and a title.
“At the end of the day, you’re playing for a championship, so we’re going to lay it all on the line,” Kessel said.