Minnesota goalie Noora Raty saw the puck skid dangerously deep into the Gophers' zone late in the first period of their women's hockey game on Saturday against Minnesota Duluth, and she quickly debated what to do.
"I thought, 'Go! Don't go. Go! Don't go,' " Raty recalled.
As she had done all weekend, and most of her career, Raty made the right decision as she charged out of the net and knocked the puck away, rendering a potential UMD 2-on-0 null and void.
Raty's 28-save shutout sparked the third-ranked Gophers to a 2-0 victory over the Bulldogs in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Face-Off championship before 1,269 fans at Amsoil Arena, possibly ending UMD's season.
Much of the talk afterward was on Minnesota's speed, but coach Brad Frost said the Gophers (31-5-2) are much more than that.
"When you combine our speed with someone who can stop the puck like that, we're tough to beat," Frost said. "Our success is based on defense, and it starts in net. I thought Noora was outstanding."
Raty's counterpart, Jennifer Harss, was nearly as good, making 34 saves, but unfortunately for UMD (21-14-1), the Gophers took advantage of their limited power-play opportunities
UMD's game on Friday against then No. 1 Wisconsin featured 17 penalties, but this one only had four.
Emily West's power-play goal at 19:16 in the second period proved to be the game-winner as Minnesota won its first WCHA tournament title since 2005. Megan Bozek later added an empty-net goal for the final margin.
Raty, a junior, added to her program records for wins in a season (30) and career shutouts (26). Raty, the tournament MVP, shut out North Dakota 6-0 in Friday's semifinals.
The Bulldogs came into Saturday tied for 10th in the PairWise Rankings and were hoping to win the WCHA tournament to earn an automatic bid into the eight-team NCAA Division I tournament. The five-time national champions will find out at 5:30 p.m. today if they won't make it for only the second time in their history (UMD didn't make it in 2003-04, when it was still a four-team tournament). UMD will host the women's Frozen Four March 16-18 at Amsoil Arena.
UMD coach Shannon Miller, who is on the NCAA selection committee, said the Bulldogs have the strongest strength of schedule in the nation.
"There is a big difference between winning percentage, and quality of wins," Miller said. "I mean, look at our league. It's the best in the country, so you're winning percentage isn't going to be at good because you're playing the Wisconsins and Minnesotas. Our league needs to fight for this."
The Bulldogs peppered Raty in the third period but failed to get anything by the Finish Olympian, with Gophers fans sticking around after the final horn sounded to chant, "Noora! Noora!"
The second period was controlled by the Gophers, who took advantage of three UMD penalties and held a 14-6 shots advantage. The first of those penalties led to a rare penalty shot, with West sticking to her forehand but not fooling Harss, who knocked the delayed shot away as West skated left to right across the crease. The last penalty led to West's goal, as she took a pass in the right circle, skated in and launched a shot through traffic to beat Harss to the stick side.
The first period had plenty of shots (26) and back-and-forth play but only one penalty and no goals as Harss and Raty were solid if not spectacular. The best opportunity came late in the period when the Bulldogs had the makings of a 2-on-0 when the puck skidded into the Gophers' zone and UMD's Jenna McParland closed in on it.
Rather than stay back and protect the net, Raty charged the puck and lunged at it just beyond the circles, clearing it before McParland and Co. could corral it and score into an empty net. That, ultimately, ended up being perhaps UMD's best scoring chance.
Raty proved she is nearly as good at gambling as she is at goaltending.
"I'm just glad I was just quick enough to get there in time," Raty said with a smile.
Minnesota Duluth: 0-0-0--0
First period -- No scoring. Penalties -- Rachael Bona, Minnesota (tripping), 18:24.
Second period -- 1. Minnesota, Emily West (Rachel Ramsey, Kelly Terry), 19:16 (pp). Penalties -- Tea Villila, UMD (tripping), 1:07; Jamie Kenyon, UMD (checking), 8:46; Villila, UMD (interference), 18:00.
Third period -- 2. Minnesota, Megan Bozek (Amanda Kessel, Jen Schoullis), 19:54 (en). Penalties -- None.
Shots on goal -- UMD 12-6-10--28, Minnesota 14-14-8--36. Goalies -- Jennifer Harss (20-14-1), UMD (35 shots-34 saves); Noora Raty (30-5-2), Minnesota (28 shots-28 saves). Power plays -- UMD 0-of-1, Minnesota 1-of-2. Referees -- Jay Mendel, Robert Ludwig. Linesmen -- Tom Jerome, David Spivey. A -- 1,269.