It only took a handful of seconds and with two swipes of her stick, Meghan Dufault ended Wisconsin’s hopes of going to the championship game of the WCHA Final Face-Off. Dufault’s late second period goal proved all North Dakota would need as goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie stopped all 35 shots she saw in UND’s 1-0 triumph over Wisconsin in the semifinals of the WCHA playoff tournament Friday afternoon at the Sanford Center in Bemidji, Minn.
After the game Badgers’ head coach Mark Johnson called the game disappointing and although they played well at times it wasn’t good enough.
“Overall I thought we played OK, but this time of year OK isn’t good enough,” Johnson said.
For almost the whole first period, Wisconsin (27-7-2) actually dominated outshooting North Dakota (20-11-4) 15-8. Of those 15 shots on target, several were quality scoring chances.
With just about three minutes to go in the first period Wisconsin got what was one of its best looks at the net of the whole game when Madison Packer sent a centering pass from the right halfboards to Karley Sylvester point blank in front of the crease. Sylvester one-timed the pass but Amsley-Benzie slid from left to right in her crease and stopped Sylvester in her tracks.
Another great chance for Wisconsin came in the first period when Ammerman broke in on net on a breakaway but again, Amsley-Benzie came up with a huge save to keep the game knotted at one.
With Amsley-Benzie standing on her head in net, it only took the one chance from Dufault with 3:14 to go in the second period to provide UND with enough to win the game. After Wisconsin turned the puck over at its own blue line, Dufault steamed in on net and fired at Badger goaltender Alex Rigsby who managed to get a piece of the original shot.
Unfortunately for Rigsby and Wisconsin the rebound came right back to Dufault and from left of the goal, Dufault shoved the puck home for the only goal of the game, which helped sway the momentum almost completely in North Dakota’s favor.
“We kind of played like we were defeated for a bit. There was a change of momentum and we tried to regroup in between periods and come back and try to gain momentum back to our advantage,” Rigsby said.
As has been the case for Wisconsin in its last four games now, that first goal has been of crucial importance. The team that has scored first in Wisconsin’s last four games has gone on to win the game, as is often the case in playoff hockey.
Once again that was the case Friday afternoon.
One thing you learn in the playoffs and the NCAA [tournament] games, the goals, especially the first ones, create a lot of energy,” Johnson said. “When they scored the goal, certainly they get excited then.”
Wisconsin tried to mount a comeback in the third period and, like the first period, the Badgers outshot North Dakota, this time by a margin of 11-6. But just as she had done in the other two period, Amsley-Benzie shut down the Badgers time and again coming up with saves on all 11 shots.
Wisconsin pulled Rigsby for 1:16 in the final stages of play but it couldn’t get a good look at the net and Amsley-Benzie held onto the puck one more time, the final horn expired.
Throughout the game only two penalties were whistled , and both of them came at the same time with matching minors in the early stages of the third period. So with no power plays during the game, the power play for Wisconsin — one of the best in the nation — never got a chance to come onto the ice.
“You end up with zero on the scoreboard–you’re best chance to score is on the power play. If you don’t get any it makes it a little more challenging to score,” Johnson said.
Fortunately for Wisconsin, as it came into the game the second team in the pairwise rankings, it will have at least one more game this season in the first round of the NCAA tournament next weekend.
Even though the Badgers still have life left in them in the postseason, they will have to learn from their mistakes to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
“I’m OK with the way we played, but if we want to move on at this, you need to play better. If they take that away from the game, that’s a good lesson to learn. We’re fortunate to get another opportunity but that doesn’t mean we’ll be successful unless you can continue to learn,” Johnson said. “Hopefully some of the lessons we’ve learned the last couple weekends will make us a tough out.”