Amanda Kessel made her final game in Ridder Arena a memorable one, completing a hat trick in the second period as Minnesota defeated visiting Princeton, 6-2, in an NCAA quarterfinal.
“We’re excited, we’re really happy, and feel grateful to be representing Minnesota and the WCHA as we move forward into the Frozen Four,” coach Brad Frost said.
Kessel scored short-handed, on a power play, and at even strength, plus she added an assist for the Gophers (33-4-1).
“Our team had been struggling to score a little bit,” Kessel said. “This week, I was setting personal goals in practice. I was telling Hannah (Brandt), try and score at least five goals a practice, and yesterday, I think I had zero or maybe one, so I was all rattled.”
Linemate and classmate Brandt also went out in style, scoring a power-play goal and contributing two helpers.
“I think me and Hannah do a good job of pushing each other, and it was great to be back playing with her,” Kessel said.
Although Minnesota was the team with more tournament experience, Princeton (22-9-2) was the team that got off to a fast start, scoring just 29 seconds into the game. Captain Jaimie McDonell buried the rebound of Kelsey Koelzer’s shot off the end boards, and on a day where quick goals had proven to go a long way in deciding two quarterfinals played in the East, it looked like that might hold true yet again.
“You dream about it,” McDonell said. “You visualize a goal on the first shift, but to make that a reality was a big start. Unfortunately, we didn’t continue that, but we set the tone and did our best.”
From that point, the Gophers’ special teams came to their rescue, as the two teams had three power-play opportunities combined in the first period, and Minnesota scored on all three.
“I think our line knew that we owed our team a couple back coming out that way, so we were really hungry,” Kessel said.
Brandt took the first bite.
“We’ve been working on different looks on the power play, and I actually just walked it instead of forcing a pass,” she said. “Sometimes they actually go in when you do that, and I was lucky on that, I guess.”
Just over a minute later with six minutes elapsed and Minnesota on the penalty kill, Kessel blew around the defense and tucked the puck through Kimberly Newell’s five-hole.
Brandt fed her a pass on a power-play rush, and the Gophers led 3-1 by the first intermission.
Although Minnesota dominated territorially in the second period, Newell held the fort until Sarah Potomak scored on a deflection with over five minutes left. Dani Cameranesi and Kessel scored on back-to-back breakaways to put the game effectively out of reach by the end of the middle frame.
Lee Stecklein and Kelsey Cline each had a pair of assists for the Gophers.
Princeton ends a season that saw it return to the top four of the ECAC and make its first trip to the NCAA tournament in 10 years.
“We had a really good year winning the Ivy League,” Princeton coach Jeff Kampersal said. “We’ve had other real-life issues that have been going on in our program. The captain of ours from two years ago got injured at the Winter Classic. Real-life things that these kids have dealt with. They persevered. We talk about ‘relentless’ being our word at the beginning of the year and they really were relentless all year. I’m very proud of them.”
The Tigers demonstrated that relentlessness by winning the final period, with Molly Contini scoring a goal with just 2.8 seconds left, after assisting on McDonell’s goal to open the game.
The attendance was announced as 2,468.
“Biggest crowd probably of my career,” McDonell said. “It was a great atmosphere.”
The Tigers were well supported.
“We had a pep band and a pep rally,” McDonell said. “Obviously a lot of us have family here.”
Newell made 37 saves in her final game for the Tigers, while Amanda Leveille turned away 25 shots in earning her 96th career win at Minnesota.
“You can’t ask for anything more than to get to the Frozen Four and giving yourself a chance for another national championship,” Brandt said.