Amid thundering chants of “Let’s go red” from a sell-out crowd in the Kohl Center Saturday night, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team hit the ice to face top-ranked Minnesota in the second game of the weekend series. Despite the Badgers’ high energy and home-ice advantage, the Gophers proved why they are the No.1 team in the country, trouncing Wisconsin 4-0.
The game was exciting from the moment it began, with the Badgers emerging from behind a layer of fog and stepping into an arena filled with flashing lights, blaring music, and a charged crowd of 13,573 fans.
“It was a pretty big adrenaline rush for our team,” goaltender Alex Rigsby said of the atmosphere. “We’ve never had the fog machine before, and it was exciting to come out [and] have the huge attendance already. It was loud in there, and we were really lucky to have the support that we do.”
From the second the puck was dropped both teams were off, setting a high pace that seemed to pressure the other to not ease up. The two looked evenly matched throughout the first period, Minnesota getting six shots off and Wisconsin taking seven, with quality scoring chances on each side of the ice.
“It’s one of those games where the team that scores first probably has a good chance of winning,” Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson said.
And he was right, as halfway through the second period, Minnesota forward Kelly Terry snuck past a Wisconsin defender and, just to the right of Rigsby, hit the top shelf on a laser of a wrist shot, earning Minnesota the crucial first goal of the game and what proved to be the only goal that mattered.
From that point on, the Gophers’ momentum started building and, though Wisconsin put up a fight, Minnesota’s bid for the sweep could not be thwarted.
The second goal came with just more than two minutes left in the same period, when a Minnesota defender took a shot from the top of the circle. Rigsby blocked this initial shot, but when she allowed a rebound, the Gophers’ leading scorers pounced. Minnesota’s Rachael Bona found the loose puck along the right endline and slipped a pass behind Rigsby through the crease to a wide open Hannah Brandt, both of whom lead the Gophers with 50 points apiece. Brandt had a wide open net to shoot at with Rigsby out of position and tucked the puck inside the left post for a two-goal lead.
The last two goals came at the beginning and middle of the third period, both consisting of a Gopher taking the puck behind the Wisconsin net, only to throw a pass behind them to a teammate waiting out in front.
Despite a lopsided score, the WCHA’s top two teams looked evenly matched throughout the majority of the game. Minnesota totaled 27 shots and Wisconsin racked up 24, both teams kept penalties to a minimum and there was just as much playing time in one end as there was in the other.
With the loss, the Badgers now haven’t seen a win against Minnesota since the 2011-2012 season, marking 10 straight losses, the longest losing streak for Wisconsin against their border rival in the all-time series.
Rigsby explained that at this point UW is just trying to keep looking forward.
“I’m tired of losing to this team,” Rigsby said. “We’re definitely going to face them again, no doubt, so hopefully we’ll be able to capitalize on our opportunities, refocus and make sure we do the little things right to succeed.”
Badgers fall short Friday
The top two teams in the nation came together Friday night at LaBahn Arena in what was one of the fastest-paced games of the season. The Wisconsin women’s hockey team hosted Minnesota in the first of the two-game series, fighting tooth and nail until the very last minute against the No. 1 ranked Golden Gophers, but eventually walking away with a tough 3-2 loss.
The two rivals showed their love for one another by starting off the Valentine’s Day game with four penalties in the first period. Wisconsin ran a successful penalty kill early on while senior defense Natalie Berg served two minutes in the box for hooking, though it was far from easy. Minnesota swarmed the net, consistently putting the pressure on senior goalie Alex Rigsby, who blocked all five shots directed her way while play was five-on-four.
Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson had prepared his Badgers for this situation and anticipated a high pace being set early on by opposing head coach Brad Frost and his Gopher players.
“[The Gophers] play at a really high pace, and if you’re going to compete with them you have to play fast and you have to take care of the puck and certainly try not to take too many penalties,” Johnson said. “They’ve got some high-powered forwards that create scoring opportunities and if you don’t defend well you’re going to be left looking a little silly.”
Later on in the first period, Minnesota received two penalties back-to-back, giving UW a five-on-three advantage. Right as the first penalty expired, still leaving Wisconsin with a one man advantage, forward Brittany Ammerman put Wisconsin on the scoreboard. Defenseman Courtney Burke started the play, moving the puck over to the top of the right circle to forward Katy Josephs, who fired a shot into a crowd of players in front of Minnesota goaltender Amanda Leveille (21 saves). Ammerman was among those in the heavy traffic and redirected Josephs’ shot into the back of the Minnesota net.
“We just had good puck possession so I stayed out there and just found a presence in front of the net,” Ammerman said of her goal. “It was a good momentum-shift for us.”
There was still plenty of time to play after Wisconsin’s initial goal and Minnesota was far from yielding to the Badgers. Answering back, the Gophers put up a goal of their own 5 minutes and 44 seconds into the second period, followed by a second one in the beginning of the third at the 3:37 mark to take the 2-1 lead over Wisconsin.
But just a few minutes later, looking for an opening to break out of the defensive zone, Wisconsin defenseman Kelly Jaminski pushed the puck up to forward Blayre Turnbull. Turnbull flew down the left side of the ice, and, on approaching the Gophers’ goaltender Leveille, split two Minnesota defenders and tossed the puck over Leveille’s shoulder, into the back of the net, bringing all of LaBahn Arena to its feet.
“It’s a good response,” Johnson said of Turnbull’s breakaway goal. “[Minnesota] defends very well, so they get up 2-1 and you know you may not get another goal, but [Turnbull] took it upon herself and had a nice rush and created energy.”
But Turnbull’s end-to-end goal still wasn’t enough to discourage the Gophers. A little less than four minutes later Minnesota racked up what turned out to be the game-winning goal on a broken play inside the Badgers’ defensive zone. Gopher defenseman Rachel Ramsey was surrounded by several Badger players upon entering the zone, leaving a wide-open Dani Cameranesi in front of the net. Ramsey promptly fed Cameranesi, who one-timed the pass past Rigsby to give the Gophers the 3-2 lead and the lead for good with 10 minutes and 58 seconds left to play.
Wisconsin pulled Rigsby (30 saves) with more than a minute left in the game, but despite several quality chances the Badgers could not reach the back of the net, falling in a heartbreaker on what was senior night for Rigsby and five others, including Jaminski, Natalie Berg, Madison Packer, Ilana Friedman and Stefanie McKeough.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” Rigsby said. “I thought our team played really well, but obviously it didn’t end the way we wanted. It’s never fun to come home and lose in your own rink, but all that aside I thought we played really well tonight and we’ll be ready for tomorrow night.”