Despite a disappointing loss in the ECAC final, the Red is primed for a run at the national championship.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Despite a disappointing loss in the ECAC final, the Red is primed for a run at the national championship.

March 21, 2019

One Game Away From NCAA Finals, Women’s Hockey Sizes Up No. 2 Minnesota

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Cornell women’s hockey’s hunt for a national title continues.

The Red has earned a position in the Frozen Four, an achievement not realized since 2012. Again an underdog on the national stage, the Red will take on a team that is perennially one of college hockey’s best.

The Red will hit the ice in Hamden, Connecticut against No. 2 Minnesota on Friday in a battle for a spot in the national championship game. The No. 6 seed in the tournament, Cornell upset No. 3 Northeastern last weekend, making the Red the lowest remaining seed.

Cornell (24-5-6, 17-3-2 ECAC) enters the game fresh off a thrilling road quarterfinal win against the Huskies. The Red, which took a 2-0 lead into the third period, was forced to compete into overtime following two quick goals from the Huskies in the final stanza. Freshman forward Gillis Frechette came to the rescue in overtime, scoring a highlight-reel game-winner to send Cornell to the national semifinals.

Going into the contest against Minnesota with the Northeastern game in hindsight, Cornell will seek to go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country.

“Minnesota is obviously a dominant team — they are extremely skilled and very well-coached,” said Cornell head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “They have a lot of depth and a lot of skill at every position.”

After falling to No. 1 Wisconsin in the WCHA final 3-1, Minnesota (31-5-1, 19-4-1 WCHA) defeated No. 7 Princeton, 5-2, last weekend to punch its ticket to the Frozen Four. This year marks Minnesota’s 12th consecutive NCAA postseason appearance. The Gophers secured national titles in 2015 and 2016.

“We are going to have to capitalize on our opportunities in the offensive zone and limit our mistakes in the D-zone,” said sophomore forward Maddie Mills. “I think it’s going to be important to have a level head throughout the entire game.”

The Red has yet to face the Gophers this season, but the team is looking forward to taking on new competition on such a high-stakes stage. For Cornell, new competition means new opportunities to showcase and develop its game.

“We are so excited to play a team that we haven’t faced this season,” said senior forward Lenka Serdar. “It is refreshing not having a history against a team like Minnesota. They are a good team but we are focusing on playing our game and being the aggressor in order to win.”

A special focus of the Red this weekend will be on special teams — a power play goal and successful penalty kills were crucial in Cornell’s win over Northeastern. Going into the semifinal, limiting penalties will be crucial to success.

“Special teams are always important in the Frozen Four,” Derraugh said. “We need to be more disciplined. We can’t afford to take many penalties.”

“After last game it is clear that special teams are going to be important going into the weekend,” Mills added.

Minnesota has been especially dominant on the offensive side, averaging an impressive 4.3 goals per game. The squad’s top scorer, Grace Zumwinkle, has registered 25 goals this season. It will therefore be critical for the Red to play strategically to curb the Gophers’ offensive firepower.

“We have to be really smart with the puck and manage it well,” Derraugh said. “We cannot give them odd-man situations, so we have to make sure we are committed to the defensive end of it. When we do have the puck we have to make smart decisions with it.”

Although the win-or-go-home contest will inevitably be fierce, Cornell is nevertheless excited to have the opportunity to compete with one of the best teams in the nation at the highest level. Cornell’s last appearance in the semifinals in 2012 — also against the Gophers — produced a 3-1 loss. The Red’s impressive 2018-19 season has given it a chance to rewrite its unfavorable history against Minnesota — and contend once again for a spot in the national championship game.

The contest will take place at 4 p.m. Friday in Hamden, Connecticut. The winner will advance to Sunday’s national championship game against the winner of the Wisconsin-Clarkson semifinal.