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Minnesota stifles Harvard 4-1, for 3rd NCAA women's hockey title in 4 years

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MINNEAPOLIS — The tradition of teams cutting down the nets after basketball championships has migrated to the ice, an idea hatched by Minnesota women's coach Brad Frost.

After overpowering Harvard to win their third title in four years, the Gophers savored their chance to slice away.

Megan Wolfe scored late in the first period and Amanda Leveille was stout in the crease with 19 saves, setting Minnesota up for a 4-1 victory and an exuberant celebration on Sunday.

Hannah Brandt, Megan Lorence and Rachael Bona had goals in the third period for Minnesota (34-3-4), which returned the trophy to the west after a one-year slip.

"We don't talk a lot about winning. We talk about the process. And then we end up winning three national championships in the last four years," said Frost, who acknowledged being a bit mystified by the success.

He had a piece of the net stuck into a backward black cap commemorating the title, as he sat at the podium with smiling seniors Bona and Rachel Ramsey.

There was no such joy last year when the Gophers lost to Clarkson in the title game in Connecticut, the first time one of the three Western Collegiate Hockey Association powers didn't take the trophy in 15 seasons of NCAA-sponsored competition.

"I think last year we kind of came in too confident thinking we're playing someone out east," Bona said, adding: "I honestly thought before the game that we were the most ready that we've ever been."

Sarah Edney's bad-angle shot from the left corner slipped past Leveille with 4:33 left, trimmed the lead to 2-1 and gave Harvard (27-6-3) hope, but Lorence answered with a wrist flip past Crimson goalie Emerance Maschmeyer less than 90 seconds later.

Then came the empty-netter by Bona, and soon after the Gophers were leaping off the bench, flinging their helmets and sticks upward and piling on top of Leveille.

PHOTO: Minnesota players celebrate winning the NCAA Frozen Four championship college hockey game against Harvard, Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)
Minnesota players celebrate winning the NCAA Frozen Four championship college hockey game against Harvard, Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)

"I think what we've done is incredibly special. I don't know if it will happen again," Ramsey said.

The Gophers got to play for the title on their home ice for the second time in three years, in front of a loud capacity crowd announced at 3,400. The majority of the tickets sold out more than two months ago.

Leveille, who made 34 saves in the 3-1 semifinal win over Wisconsin, allowed five goals in the championship game last year.

This time, Ramsey, Wolfe, Lee Stecklein, Sydney Baldwin, Milica McMillen and Kelsey Cline led another stifling performance on the blue line in front of Leveille.

"We didn't get to the goaltender much except for flurries in the game, and I think that's a testament to their defense and their transition defense," Harvard coach Katey Stone said. "They blocked a lot of shots and took things away in the middle of the ice."

The Gophers brought an end-to-end energy that produced a 14-6 shots-on-goal advantage in the first period. Just when they were in danger of letting that domination go to waste, Wolfe sent the puck into the upper-right corner out of Maschmeyer's reach for the lead with 51 seconds left before the break.

Harvard had the Gophers on their heels in the second period, but the Gophers and their senior leaders Bona, Lorence and Ramsey had the title in their sights down the stretch.

Minnesota's attack was too much. Ramsey pinged a shot off the post with a slap shot early in the third period. Then a few minutes later Brandt, who led the Gophers with 34 goals, knocked in a backhand off a slick pass by Maryanne Menefee.

"We were just hoping to get a couple of bounces going our way," Harvard captain Kalley Armstrong said.

Maschmeyer made 29 saves. The junior stopped 43 shots in the 2-1 semifinal victory over Boston College on Friday, the culmination of a remarkable rally from a 10-2 loss to the rival Eagles in late November that preceded a 10-game winning streak. Boston College had a 28-game unbeaten streak end in the semifinal.

This was the fourth NCAA runner-up finish for Stone, who wrapped up her 20th year as head coach. Minnesota also beat the Crimson for consecutive titles in 2004 and 2005, and Harvard lost to Minnesota Duluth in the championship game in 2003. The Crimson won the American Women's College Hockey Alliance title in 1999.

Minnesota matched Minnesota Duluth with its fifth title. Wisconsin has four.

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PHOTO: Minnesota forward Hannah Brandt (22) scores a goal against Harvard goalie Emerance Maschmeyer (38) during the second period of an NCAA women's Frozen Four championship college hockey game Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)
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