The last time the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team lost, America found itself considering the possibility of President Rick Santorum.
Since that letdown, a Feb. 17, 2012, overtime loss to the University of North Dakota, the Gophers have won an NCAA-record 42 straight games. Eight of those wins came during a run to the 2012 NCAA championship; the other 34 make up the team’s ongoing bid to put together the first undefeated season in Division I women’s hockey history.
This season, the Gophers have not been winning games so much as recording hourlong highlight tapes.
Over a two-month stretch to start the campaign, Minnesota scored 98 goals and gave up just 10. A lot of those 98, and the many that have followed, can be traced to Amanda Kessel. Kessel leads all D-I women in goals (43) as well as assists (50). And to think she was nearly a Badger: Kessel was born and grew up in Madison, Wis., but chose to follow her older brother Phil (now a first-line forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs) to the Twin Cities.
“Freshman year it was a little weird playing [Wisconsin],” Kessel said. “But now that I’ve gotten older, it’s just another team.”
The other big reason for the team’s success is a small one: goalie Noora Raty, a 5-foot-4 puck-stopping wonder, who stands tied for the all-time college record for shutouts, with 39 and counting. Watching along the way has been her mother, who often wakes in the middle of the night to watch Raty’s games from her hometown of Espoo, Finland.
“She’s probably my biggest fan,” Raty said.
Raty is a master at reading the game. At times, she seems to be impatiently wondering why an opponent isn’t making a pass to an open teammate who will, ultimately, deliver the puck into Raty’s waiting glove.
“She anticipates better than any goalie we’ve ever had,” praised head coach Brad Frost.
An even stronger compliment came from Kessel, who was at a loss for words when asked how to score on Raty.
“I don’t, even, like ... ” Kessel stammered. “She just, I mean. Honestly? I feel, like — I don’t know.”
Kessel shouldn’t worry. So far this year — when it comes to stopping her or scoring on Raty — no one else has any answers, either.
WCHA Final Face-off: Gophers vs. Ohio State
When: 7 p.m. Fri.
Where: Ridder Arena, 1815 SE. 4th St., Mpls.