The Wisconsin women’s hockey team found out why conference rival Minnesota is ranked No.1 in the NCAA after being swept in the two-game border battle over the weekend.
No. 8 Wisconsin (15-9-2, 11-9-2 WCHA) got all it could handle and more with No.1 Minnesota (26-0-0, 20-0-0), losing at home 2-0 Friday and 5-2 Sunday in a statement series for the Gophers.
The Gophers’ two wins in LaBahn Arena extend their NCAA record for longest winning streak to 34 games.
Junior forward Madison Packer scored the University of Wisconsin’s lone goal in the series.
“Sometimes it’s good to lose like that,” Packer said. “It’s tough, it’s not fun, but we have a couple of weeks before playoffs and we’ll see them again. So we’ll learn from the mistakes we made today and try and pick ourselves up and beat them when we go up to Ridder [Arena].”
Minnesota’s high flying offense got the scoring started early Sunday with a 1-on-1 goal from senior forward Becky Kortum with just over seven minutes gone in the first period.
Wisconsin was quick to strike back, however, after a Minnesota penalty gave the Badgers a power play opportunity.
UW was able to capitalize on the one-man advantage when Packer skated in front of the net and beat University of Minnesota goal tender Noora Räty to the right side, tying the game at one.
Packer’s power play score marked Wisconsin’s first goal against Minnesota on the season, after being shutout in their previous series against the Gophers back in December.
UM was quick to take back the lead late in the first period on a power play goal by freshman forward Hannah Brandt after UW’s Erika Sowchuk was called for tripping.
Wisconsin was unable to find the back of the net for rest of the game against Minnesota’s Räty, as the elite goalie racked up 22 saves and earned her 100th career win.
The Minnesota attack went on to score three more times against Wisconsin goaltender Alex Rigsby, giving the Gophers a 5-1 victory over the Badgers.
Sunday marked the first time a team was able to score over four goals on Wisconsin since Minnesota scored 7 on the Badgers in November of 2010.
Freshman defenseman Courtney Burke tipped her hat to Minnesota’s constant offensive attack, as the Gophers constant advances eventually took its toll on the Badgers defenders.
“I think we just broke down,” Burke said. “They played a full 60 minutes and I think we could have played a lot harder throughout the game.”
Räty puts Badger offense on ice Friday
In the first of the two-game series over the weekend, Minnesota shut out Wisconsin in a 2-0 victory Friday night.
Similar to the game Sunday, the Gophers got off to an early start with Brandt putting Minnesota on the board early with a shot from the left circle on a 3-on-2 break away just over four minutes into the first period.
Later in the period, Minnesota took a two goal lead with a 5-on-3 power play goal on a shot from the left circle from senior defenseman Mira Jalosuo.
Despite Minnesota’s 23 shots on goal in the second and third periods, the Wisconsin defense was able to stop the Gophers from scoring again but failed to get a puck past Räty, as the goalie stopped all 25 shots on goal in the game.
Head coach Mark Johnson said he realizes just how difficult Minnesota is to beat and said his team needs to play better for the whole game if UW wants to compete with UM.
“Our job is to try and win a hockey game and you look at the next one,” Johnson said. “The speed of the game in the second period, they were playing on their toes and we were playing on our heels. They are comfortable in their game.”
“They don’t really have a lot of weaknesses. So if you are going to beat them, you have to do a lot of little things well for the whole game. We played well at times but not for a long enough time to beat them.”
The two losses to top-ranked Minnesota knocks Wisconsin out of second in the WCHA to third behind Minnesota-Duluth, who won a pair of games over the weekend against No. 9 Ohio State.
The Badgers will have time to learn and recover from the Minnesota series with no games until Feb. 8 at St. Cloud State.
Johnson says his team will be able to learn from their games with the Golden Gophers and come back strong for the final six games of the regular season.
“Every game you are going to learn something,” Johnson said. “Obviously [Minnesota] is on a roll. They don’t have many weaknesses and play at a really high level. A little humility goes a long way.”
“We still have six important games left. We’ll try to position ourselves to make sure we get home ice advantage. You don’t want to lose any hockey games but you have to learn from them and move on and that’s what we need to do.”