The NCAA is holding its women’s hockey Frozen Fours this weekend and Irondale High School will be represented at both of them. Meghan Lorence is headed to her third Division I Frozen Four while Kelsey Barnier is set to appear in her first Division III Frozen Four.
Lorence is a junior on the women’s hockey team at the University of Minnesota and has yet to miss a Frozen Four in her time with the Golden Gophers. She and her Minnesota teammates are trying to win a third consecutive national championship.
“It’s just surprising, I guess, because not everyone can say they’ve made it to the Frozen Four all three years they’ve been in the program,” Lorence said. “It’s just an honor to be part of it. It’s a special feeling. We’re just blessed to have such a great team.”
Lorence and company clinched their third consecutive Frozen Four berth by beating Boston University 5-1 in the national quarterfinals on Saturday at Ridder Arena.
“We know it doesn’t come easy because not every team can do this,” Lorence said. “We have a special group being able to say you’ve been to the Frozen Four three times. Hopefully we can get the same outcome that we have in the past two years.”
That outcome was winning a national championship, which Minnesota did in 2012 in Duluth and in 2013 in Minneapolis. This year’s team has to travel a bit further for the Frozen Four, which is being held in Hamden, Conn.
“I think it’ll be a good experience,” said Lorence. “The first year we won it was in Duluth and last year we were fortunate to have our home crowd at Ridder so that was an awesome atmosphere. We’re excited to go out east because a lot of our fans and family will be out there and it will be a different atmosphere.”
Lorence joined the Gophers in 2011 and the team was coming off a loss in the national quarterfinals the season prior. The Gophers used that loss as motivation and won the national title for the first time since 2005. Last year, Minnesota had a season for the ages by going undefeated (41-0) and claiming a second consecutive title.
Heading into this season, the Gophers needed to replace plenty of high-end talent, including All-American goaltender Nora Raty, All-American defenseman Megan Bozek and All-American forward Amanda Kessel. All three played in the Olympics earlier this year.
With that kind of talent gone, there was a question whether Minnesota could keep up the pace it set by going unbeaten last year. Ultimately it wasn’t able to but it also wasn’t off by much either. The Gophers lost just once this season and played to a tie one other time. Otherwise, it was more of the same: win, win, win.
“We lost a lot of scoring and obviously defense and goalie but our veterans have stepped it up to the next level,” Lorence said. “Also, our freshmen came in strong and they made a big impact on the team. I think our team chemistry, because we get along so well on and off the ice, that’s a big part of it.”
Lorence is one of those experienced players who have taken their game to the next level. She has more than doubled her career point total this season. Through her first two seasons, Lorence had 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists). This season alone she has 18 goals and 17 assists for 35 points.
“I think just the different role I’ve been put in on the team and just having more confidence being an upperclassman and with that experience just being used to the systems,” said Lorence about what spurred her ascension up the scoring list this season. “Being a leader on the team and focusing on making an impact on the team.”
It also doesn’t hurt that she skates on a line with the leading scorer in the country in sophomore Hannah Brandt.
“Hannah’s awesome; I’ve gotten to know her really well,” said Lorence. “She’s not only a great linemate but she’s a great person off the ice as well. She’s awesome on the ice. She puts the puck on my stick even when I don’t think she even sees me so it’s a lot of fun playing with her.”
Minnesota enters the Frozen Four on a 17-game winning streak and has gone 25 games without an official loss. The Gophers tied Ohio State on Jan. 11 and went on to lose the shootout but for official purposes the result of the game is a tie. Minnesota’s only loss in the last two seasons came on Nov. 17 in a 3-2 defeat at the hands of North Dakota.
When the Gophers take the ice on Friday in Connecticut, they’ll line up against a familiar foe. Rival Wisconsin, which edged Harvard 2-1 in the quarterfinals, is joining Minnesota at the Frozen Four and the winner will advance to Sunday’s final against either Mercyhurst or Clarkson. Mercyhurst upset Cornell 3-2 and Clarkson topped Boston College 3-1 in the quarterfinals.
Minnesota and Wisconsin have already faced each other four times this season with the Gophers claiming victory in all four contests. The first two were in October at Ridder Arena and Minnesota won those 2-1 and 2-0. They met again in February in Madison and the Gophers won those games 3-2 and 4-0 to clinch the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season title.
The trip to the Frozen Four will conclude a whirlwind two weeks that included a Western Collegiate Hockey Association tournament title, a trip to the White House for a ceremony in honor of last year’s national championship and a national quarterfinal victory.
The trip to Washington D.C. was particularly memorable. The Gophers didn’t get to go to the White House following the 2012 national title.
“It was a memory we’ll never forget,” said Lorence. “We have to take that in perspective because maybe we could go back if we win it again. It was an awesome experience and we’d all love to go back.”
Barner is a senior on the University of St. Thomas women’s hockey team and has helped the squad put together a historic season. The Tommies reached the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time since 2003 and are headed to their first Frozen Four.
St. Thomas secured its spot in the Frozen Four by beating the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point 5-0 in the national quarterfinals last Friday at the Pointers’ home arena.
Next up for sixth-ranked St. Thomas is a national semifinal contest against top-ranked Plattsburgh State on Friday at 2:30 p.m. Central time. Plattsburgh, which is located about an hour south of Montreal in northeast New York, beat Williams College 4-1 in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
Barnier enters her final weekend of college hockey having played 104 games during her four seasons at St. Thomas. Among current players, she is tied for the most games played at St. Thomas with teammate Maria Bothwell.
This season, Barnier has scored two goals and has seven assists for nine points. Her most recent point was an assist on the game-winning goal in overtime in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament semifinals against Concordia.
For her career, Barnier has 12 goals and 19 assists for 31 points. Last season as a junior, Barnier was named honorable mention all-MIAC.
While at Irondale, Barnier played in two state tournaments in 2009 and 2010. In six state-tournament games, she scored four goals and collected one assist. In 2009, the Knights won the consolation championship and a year later they took fourth place.
The other national semifinal on Friday pits fourth-ranked UW-River Falls against second-ranked Norwich. River Falls beat Lake Forest 4-1 in the quarterfinals while Norwich reached the Frozen Four by beating defending national champion Elmira 2-1 in overtime.
The two semifinal winners meet for the national title on Saturday at 6 p.m. while the losers play in the third-place game on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Brian Meyers can be reached at email@example.com .