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Gophers women one game from Frozen Four with Princeton coming to town

Minnesota Gophers senior Kelly Pannek (left) won a gold medal with Team USA at the Winter Olympics a year ago, and hopes to close her college hockey career with a second NCAA title. (Jim Rosvold / University of Minnesota Athletics)1 / 2
Minnesota Gophers women's hockey coach Brad Frost2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS -- The NCAA playoffs present a fresh start and a chance to see new faces for the eight women’s hockey teams still playing. But for the seniors on Princeton’s roster, there may be a sarcastic “oh, great, YOU again” attitude when they hit the ice at Ridder Arena this weekend.

The Tigers have made the NCAA tournament three times. All three times, they’ve had to face the Minnesota Gophers, and the two previous times, the Gophers won. But Minnesota coach Brad Frost and company are not taking the Tigers, or anyone, lightly, at this time of the season when it’s one-and-done if you lose.

“Their first line is as good as any in the country. They all have over 20 goals, which is pretty incredible,” said Frost, referring to the trio of freshmen Sarah Filier and Maggie Connors and junior Carly Bullock, who hails from Eden Prairie. They’ve combined for 67 goals in the Tigers’ 32 games. “They’re very fast and they get after it. It should be a very entertaining game because I think we play very similar.”

The Gophers head into the NCAAs needing one win to advance to the Frozen Four, which will be played March 22-24 in Hamden, Connecticut.

Coming off losses

Wisconsin beat Minnesota on Sunday in the WCHA tournament title game, and the Gophers fell to second -- behind the Badgers -- in this week’s national polls. Likewise, the Tigers lost the last time out, falling to Cornell in overtime in the ECAC Hockey playoffs. After riding a 20-game unbeaten streak earlier this season, the Tigers come to Minneapolis having gone 2-4-0 in their last six outings.

The Gophers have lost five times all season, but got two good tests last weekend and ended up as runners-up in the conference tournament. Their last NCAA title came in 2016, meaning that a few of this year’s Gophers are looking to bookend their college careers with their second -- and the school’s eighth -- NCAA title.

“Everyone is playing to extend their season, everyone’s in a make-or-break situation. We know we have to win to continue, so it’s great. We’re looking forward to a really fun game,” said Gophers redshirt senior Kelly Pannek, who missed last season while winning a gold medal as a member of Team USA at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. “To make it to one final (Frozen Four) and give ourselves a chance at a national championship would be everything.”

Despite a wealth of upper class experience that’s won international medals and NCAA titles, the Gophers have a sophomore and two freshmen among their top four scorers. Having missed the Frozen Four last season when it was played in their home rink, a win versus Princeton would mean an all-new experience for some key members of this team.

“Every year is different, every team is different. That’s one of the best things about my job is that every year it’s a different group,” said Frost, who is in his 12th season as head coach. “The expectations continue to be the same and probably always will be here...but it’s a new group.

"Our freshmen last year didn’t get a chance to taste the Frozen Four as we didn’t make it. Now we’ve got a freshman group and a sophomore group that are really wanting to get there and take that next step in our season.”

Saturday’s game starts at 4 p.m. at Ridder Arena. There is no television or radio for the game, but video, audio and live stats will be streamed at GopherSports.com.

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