Gophers Hockey: A new identity formed at the end of a winning streak

Milica McMillen Gophers Women's Hockey

With 1:02 remaining in the third period of the Gopher women’s hockey game versus North Dakota on Sunday, anyone that looked up at the Ridder Arena scoreboard saw a second for every win that Minnesota had put up since losing to North Dakota back in February of 2012.

The streak — as it has been commonly known since last year — came to an end last Sunday after the Gophers fell to the same team that started the 62-game winning streak. And the win that started it all, could have been more than a decade ago it feels like.

Mixed in between the losses to North Dakota has been something college women’s hockey has never seen before, including a perfect 41-0-0 season and records that will likely go untouched for quite some time.

But should this year’s team take the blame for losing the longest winning streak in college hockey history? I don’t think so. With graduation and recruitment in college athletics, teams have new identities year in and year out.

Minnesota women’s hockey is no different.

The eight wins to close out the 2011-12 season by the Gophers were exactly what they needed to win a championship that year. A playoff push that would give Minnesota their first women’s hockey championship under head coach Brad Frost and the school’s first since 2005.

A season ago, Minnesota was primed to show their dominance as an elite program and push for a championship repeat. They did so in uncharacteristic form, behind one of the best combinations of offense and defense ever seen, Minnesota rolled through competition like a snow plow through a blizzard.

Nothing could stop them and nobody did. The “streak” belonged to last year’s lady Gophers, who battled through triple-overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament and again winning an overtime match up in the Frozen Four against Boston College to earn a spot in the championship game. Talk about beating the odds to go perfect

For defender Milica McMillen and her sophomore teammates, the loss was the first in their careers as a Gopher, and not surprisingly, it came initially as a shock.

That’s what makes the absence of losses the lore of last season’s team. It was bound to end, but it was the 41-game stretch in the middle that defined the record-breaking run.

“One of the benefits of the streak being over is that you get to look back at what was accomplished,” coach Frost said. “As you look at the streak, sometimes you forget about the fact that this is a new year and new team.”

Two months into this season, one loss should not derail the No. 1 team in the country but it’s almost unfair to put the streak in the hands of this year’s Golden Gophers team.

Minnesota lost three All-Americans from last year in defender Megan Bozek, forward Amanda Kessel, and goaltender Noora Raty. All three will be competing in the Olympics next February. Bozek and Raty graduated from the program and the Patty Kazmaier Award winner, Kessel, has been putting off her senior year to train with Team U.S.A.

“I texted a few of my classmates, like (Katie) Frischmann and Bozek, and we were all saying ‘sad day’, but oh well, all good comes to an end some day,” said Raty, who was in attendance last Sunday when the streak came to an end.

“It might sound weird, but I think it’s good they lost. Now this team has their own identity and people won’t compare this year’s team to last year’s team,” said Raty. “Last year’s team was something special, you’ll never have a team like that again.”

With a new identity in hand, the Golden Gophers will look to bounce back on the road this weekend in New Haven, Conn. against the Yale Bulldogs. Finally, Frost and company can get away from the constant questions about the streak and get back to playing hockey.

“Everyone of our players grew up losing hockey games, whether it was in high school or college or prior to,” said Frost. “Losing is normal. It’s not as normal as winning here, but it does happen and we just need to refocus, retool, and be ready to go.”

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Topics: Brad Frost, Hockey, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Noora Raty, Womens

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