DULUTH, Minn. -- Going into Friday’s second national semifinal game between Minnesota and Cornell, it was a tilt that looked as though it would be a showcase for players of Amanda Kessel’s caliber.

Both the Gophers and the Big Red have averaged north of four goals scored per game thus far in the 2011-12 season, and with Kessel leading Minnesota in terms of attacking production, Friday’s tilt was a game her team would need her to shine.

That’s exactly what the sophomore from Madison, Wis. did, scoring the Gophers’ opening goal and assisting on two other tallies in Minnesota’s 3-1 semifinal win.

The Gophers turned the Cornell end of the ice into a shooting gallery in Friday’s first period, peppering Big Red goaltender Amanda Mazzotta with 21 shots on net in the opening 20 minutes.

Mazzotta rose to the challenge time and again, though, and it wasn’t until the 17:16 mark of that period that Kessel that broke the game’s scoreless deadlock and finally got the ball rolling for the Gophers.

NC ICE HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP
Interactive Bracket
Semifinal 1: Wisconsin tops Boston College
Semifinal 2: Minnesota downs Cornell

Kessel’s 31st goal of the season was a power play marker, taking a puck that was laid off for her by Gopher winger Sarah Erickson before slotting the puck home.

“We’d had two power plays and were moving the puck around well, but we were kind of on the perimeter for a bit,” Kessel said, speaking about how Cornell kept the Gophers off the board until she finally put Minnesota ahead.

“Erickson shielded the puck nicely and left it there for me, and I saw the goalie way out and I knew what I wanted to do and just took (the puck) far-side into the empty net.”

Minnesota didn’t have to wait long before doubling its lead. A second power play goal came 1:13 later, with Gopher defenseman Megan Bozek bombing a shot from the blue line low past Mazzotta.

Kessel was awarded a second assist on the goal that put the Gophers 2-0 up heading back to their dressing room for the first intermission.

Cornell made things interesting in the second period, halving Minnesota’s lead at the 11:40 mark of Friday’s middle frame through a power play goal from big Red defenseman Alyssa Gagliardi. Kessel struck again in the third period, however, springing Gopher forward Emily West loose to score an empty-net goal with 34.7 seconds left in the game.

Friday’s semifinal game saw a signature performance from Kessel, who led the Gophers to victory and a spot in Sunday’s national championship game against Wisconsin.

It promises to be a special occasion for Kessel, a Madison, Wis. native who opted to play her high school hockey at Faribault, Minn.’s Shattuck St. Mary’s School before joining the Gophers.

“I’m so excited and almost speechless about it, but that’s why I went to Minnesota in the first place,” Kessel said.

“When I was committing, Wisconsin had been winning national championships, and I wanted to help a different team win, and we have that chance here on Sunday.”

Kessel’s team will square off with her hometown school in Sunday’s national title game.