Coon Rapids’ own Rachael Bona, a University of Minnesota sophomore forward, added a second national hockey championship March 23 as the Gophers winning streak reached 49 games.
Bona is perhaps the best girls’ hockey player to come from the Cardinals program.
The well-publicized winning streak will survive another spring, summer and fall in part to Bona, as she and teammates which posted a 41-0 record this season ended with a 6-3 win against No. 2 Boston University in the NCAA championship game.
“It’s pretty surreal. I can’t believe it. To go undefeated the whole entire year it unbelievable,” Bona said as teammates began a well-deserved break away from the ice the week leading up to Easter.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter included the Gophers in a tweet about the year of the streak, including the Miami Heat and Chicago Blackhawks in the same breath as the women’s hockey champs.
Bona said the added attention to the sport is a welcome change.
“We’re finally starting to get some of the recognition that we deserve,” she said. “This team definitely deserves it and it’s great to see some stuff on ‘SportsCenter’ because 49 straight wins is amazing, no matter the sport.”
Bona spent this season as a winger on the second line with Becky Kortum and Kelly Terry. She tied for the fifth-most points on the nation’s most potent offense with 32 points. Bona finished sixth on the team in goals (14) and tied for seventh in assists (18) with a player rating of +36 on the team which tallied an amazing +656 overall rating. Bona also posted the fourth most shots on goal with 115. As a freshman Bona scored eight times and had 15 points in 41 games.
The three finalists for the Patty Kazmeyer Award came from the maroon and gold in seniors Megan Bozek and Noora Raty with winner Amanda Kessel earning the honor after scoring 44 goals and 97 points during her junior campaign. Kessel received numerous honors including first-team All-American by the American Hockey Coaches Association and the WCHA Player of the Year honor.
Winning a second national title felt different for Bona.
“Because of the undefeated portion, that made it different,” she said. “Coming in everyone had the mind set we aren’t going to lose, obviously this team is a little different this year coming in as national champs.”
The Gophers streak was challenged a few times, especially toward the end of the season.
Bona had a helping hand in ending the program’s longest game, a 3-2 win against North Dakota in triple overtime. The contest, to decide who would move on to the Frozen Four, spanned nearly two complete games or 118 minutes, 51 seconds.
Bona collected a rebound off the back wall and redirected to Terry who one-timed the puck past the North Dakota goalie to trigger a wild celebration.
Bona helped push the Gophers into a lead against Boston College in the national semifinals as Kortum cleaned up a rebound shot 12:12 of the third period to take a 2-1 lead. Two minutes later BC tied the game to force overtime.
Bona said the Cardinals were well-represented at Ridder Arena with high school coach Jessica Christopherson and assistants Matt Mossey and Kristen Beese in the seats for both Frozen Four games. Christopherson told Bona that well over 100 Coon Rapids fans traveled to the rink for the semifinal game.
Another difference this season comes from the balanced roster from freshmen to seniors. “We had balance in the classes this year and every line contributed,” Bona said.
Next season the Gophers will be without its consistent goalkeeper of the last four seasons in Finnish national team goalie Noora Raty. Raty will spend next season preparing for the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be her third.
“We wanted to win it all for our senior class. Obviously there is no better way to go out than on top and I can only hope to have a senior season like she’s had,” Bona said. “Noora did so many things for us that just go unnoticed but like we said at practice all the time, we were fortunate enough to go against the best goalie in the world everyday.”
Jason Olson is at firstname.lastname@example.org