Powerhouse Minnesota women not favored for the Frozen Four

Published 10:08 pm Wednesday, March 15, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — With appearances in each of the last five NCAA championship games, yielding four titles, Minnesota has been the team to try to beat in women’s hockey.

Yet entering Frozen Four weekend this year, the Gophers are not considered the favorite. They’re the only unseeded team that advanced from the quarterfinals, even if their reputation has overshadowed their season resume.

“Coming to the University of Minnesota, especially in recent years, is that expectation to be the top team,” said junior forward Kelly Pannek. “No team is looking at us like the underdog.”

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The Gophers (26-7-5) will play Clarkson (30-4-5) in a semifinal on Friday in St. Charles, Missouri, a first-time Frozen Four site and the home of Lindenwood University. Boston College (28-5-5) will face Wisconsin (32-2-4) in the other game. The championship is on Sunday, televised on the Big Ten Network.

“Our team has gone through a lot of adversity this year, and just being able to fight through that and to push through and be able to make our way back is really meaningful,” said senior forward Dani Cameranesi, who missed six weeks due to injury but returned in time for March. “It’s such an honor to be able to go back.”

Cameranesi wasn’t the only key player who missed time this season. An 8-2 loss at Wisconsin on Dec. 4 and a sweep by Minnesota Duluth on Jan. 13-14 were low moments. But the Gophers tied the Badgers, who have been ranked first in the national polls since the preseason, in consecutive games on Feb. 18-19 and built some momentum for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs. The Gophers beat Minnesota Duluth 1-0 in the NCAA quarterfinals last weekend.

“Great players making some big plays at the right time,” said coach Brad Frost, who’s in his 10th year on the job. “It’s been a struggle, or a little bit more of a struggle than it has been in the past.”

Clarkson, of course, was the team that beat Minnesota 5-4 in the 2014 championship game. That stands as the only title for the 33 teams not named Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth or Wisconsin, all from the WCHA, since the NCAA began organizing the sport in 2001. The Gophers have six NCAA championships.

If they can bring back a seventh this weekend, such a feat would rank among the greatest accomplishments by a program that finished 41-0 in 2013 as part of a 62-game winning streak.

“I think every year looking back on the previous year you have a sense of, ‘Wow, that actually happened,’” Pannek said, “and every year you have a little more of an appreciation for how hard it is to actually get there. I think this year more than anything, we’re just so aware of our journey to get to this point in the season. We’re all really excited for the weekend and the opportunity that lies ahead of us.”