The potent offensive attack that fans of the Wisconsin women’s hockey team have grown accustomed to did not make an appearance Friday afternoon at Ridder Arena.
North Dakota’s (26-10-1, 19-9-1 WCHA) defensive effort kept the Wisconsin (23-10-2, 17-9-2) attack in check for a majority of the game, holding the Badgers scoreless until a third-period goal with 3:43 left to play. Struggling to find an offensive rhythm against UND, the loss in the WCHA Final Face-Off turned out to be UW’s last of the 2012-2013 season, as the team failed to secure an NCAA bid.
“[North Dakota] did a good job,” senior forward Brianna Decker said. “Their goalie [Shelby Amsley-Benzie] stopped the shots that she faced, but I didn’t think we really got rolling until the second period. It is what it is now.”
Any hopes Wisconsin had of starting the game quickly on the offensive end of the ice were put on hold when freshman forward Rachel Jones was sent to the penalty box for checking just 1:06 into the game.
A theme of early-period penalties plagued Wisconsin in the contest, with its players booked for penalties in the first two minutes of all three periods — with two of those penalties coming from Jones.
“One of the things we talked about prior to the game was playing with some discipline and making sure we stay out of the box,” Johnson said. “We didn’t do a very good job of that in certain points of the game. We had a couple shifts in a row where we created some things and then taking a penalty just takes the rhythm out.
“It really started with the first shift of the game. You don’t know how tight the referee is going to call it and so you have to play accordingly. Again, if we were to do it over again, we’d need to do a better job in that area.”
After successfully killing UND’s initial power play in the first period, Wisconsin found itself playing on its heels as North Dakota’s high-powered offensive attack spent the majority of the first 20 minutes in its own offensive zone.
With the Badgers’ focus directed toward fighting off rabid North Dakota offensive pressure, the Wisconsin attack suffered, attempting only eight shots on net in the first period.
It was a poor early sign for Wisconsin, a team that has thrived on getting an early jump on its opponent. The Badgers entered the game spotting a cool 20-0 record when scoring first.
But North Dakota won the battle to score first, putting a goal on the board with 8:24 left in the first period, the 27th time in the team’s 36 games it found a way to score first.
North Dakota’s explosive offensive attack had scored 60 goals in its 12-game unbeaten run coming into Friday, but it was ultimately the outstanding play of redshirt freshman goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie that sealed the team’s victory. Amsley-Benzie denied all Wisconsin’s attempts to score until late in the third period, when her team already had a two-goal cushion.
It was what has come to be expected for the young goalie, who entered the game against the Badgers giving up an average of 1.67 goals per game.
Amsley-Benzie, who split time between the pipes for North Dakota until mid-January, continued her streak of success since winning her spot outright, as the win against Wisconsin added to her 12-2-1 record since taking sole responsibility in the goal.
“It was a good game,” Amsley-Benzie said. “I knew it was a big one. I had a lot of help. I know on our [penalty kill], Monique [Lamoureux] had probably four blocked shots as it is. When I did let a rebound out, they cleared it right out.”
Wisconsin only managed to put the puck on goal 27 times, getting just one of those shots past Amsley-Benzie with 3:43 left in the game. The scoring play was a shot from freshman Erika Sowchuk right in front of the crease, receiving a beautiful feed on a pass from senior forward Lauren Unser.
When it looked like the UW offense was finally gaining some momentum, penalty problems struck again, this time on a cross-checking penalty by freshman Courtney Burke that sent her to the box for two minutes with just 2:41 left in the game.
After having five players on the ice for only one of the last three minutes of the game, Wisconsin was unable to find its equalizing goal and left Ridder Arena with a loss that ultimately killed UW’s chances of making the NCAA tournament.
“That was probably the best game that some of our D has played this year,” North Dakota head coach Brian Idalski said. “Especially against Decker, [Madison] Packer, [Karley] Sylvester who I have a lot of respect for on Wisconsin.”