For a while it appeared on Saturday night as if Meghan Dufault’s second-period goal would hold up.
However, the University of Minnesota scored at the 16-minute mark of the same period to tie the game at 2-2 and then Minnesota’s Rachael Bona scored with 1:09 left in the third overtime — that’s right, the third overtime — to give the Golden Gophers a 3-2 win over North Dakota in the NCAA women’s hockey quarterfinals.
With the win, 39-0-0 Minnesota heads off to the Frozen Four in Minneapolis, March 22-24. The Gophers will play Boston College on Friday night
. The other Frozen Four semifinal will be between Mercyhurst and Boston University in a game that will feature six Manitobans – Shelby Bram, Christine Bestland and Kristine Grenier from Mercyhurst and Britt Hergesheimer, Janelle Kohanchuk and Alexis Woloschuk from Boston U.
Had UND pulled off the biggest upset of the year in women’s hockey on Saturday, two more Manitobans – Dufault and Tori Williams – would have been off to the Frozen Four. Both Dufault and Williams are graduates of Balmoral Hall School in Winnipeg, as are Kohanchuk and Hergesheimer. Bestland and Woloschuk attended Pursuit of Excellence in Kelowna, B.C.
On Saturday night, in what is being called one of the greatest women’s hockey games ever played, the two played almost two hours before Bona scored the winner. Freshman goalie Shelby Amsley-Benzie made 57 saves in the UND net while Minnesota’s all-world goaltender, Finland’s Noora Raty had 50 saves in the Minnesota net.
Minnesota scored on its second shot on goal but UND came back and outshot the Gophers 18-7 in the first period. Ashley Furia scored for UND before the first period ended.
North Dakota took its first lead of the game on a power-play goal by Dufault only 29 seconds into the second period and held that lead until Minnesota scored it’s own power-play goal at the 16-minute mark of that same period.
It was the last goal scored until the game-winner 62-minutes and 51-seconds later. Amazingly, there were a combined 238 shots attempted in the game, 79 of those shots were blocked. The game lasted four hours and 27 minutes.
“I talked to the kids a little bit after like, ‘You know what, you gave, arguably, the best women’s hockey team in the history of the game so far everything they could handle,” UND head coach Brian Idalski said. “’You should be proud of that.’”
Despite the heartbreaking loss on Saturday night, it was an outstanding season for two of the greatest Metis players in Manitoba history. Dufault, from Winnipeg, and defenseman Tori Williams from The Pas, were sensational for UND.
Dufault, who finished the final game against the Gophers with a goal and an assist, was named the WCHA Women’s Rookie of the Week for January 9.
A freshman right winger, who was a member of Canada’s national under-18 team, Dufault had an historic night for UND on Jan. 4, when she had six points in a 7-3 victory at Lindenwood. She tied the UND women’s record with four goals that night. She notched three of her goals in the second period, one of which was the eventual game-winning tally at the 4:10 mark.
Then in North Dakota’s 8-4 triumph over the host Lady Lions last on Saturday, Jan. 5, Dufault followed up with an assist on the game’s first goal. Along with her seven points in the series, she fired 12 shots on goal and earned a plus-five plus-minus mark.
In all 38 games with UND this season, Dufault ranked fifth in scoring on the UND team with 41 points on 19 goals and 22 assists. She was also third on the team in plus-minus with a plus-28 mark.
“She’s really developing well,” said UND’s legendary fifth-year star Jocelyne Lamoureux. “I’ve been playing with her for a little while now, and she’s really coming along,” I think she’s finding some more confidence: Keep holding on to the puck, not looking for the pass right away. She’s going to be a big player for us.”
Williams, who finished with a plus-one mark in the tough loss to Minnesota, also played in all 38 games for UND and had a goal and seven assists. She was also tops on the UND team among defensemen with a plus-minus mark of plus-12.
Williams, a class act in every aspect, was a member of Team Manitoba 2009, the women’s team that won the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship gold medal.