No team has been more dominant in collegiate hockey than the Minnesota women’s hockey team in the past three years, and that didn’t change Friday.
Through two periods of the national semifinal matchup up between Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Wisconsin Badgers looked to be on the brink advancing to the championship game and snapping their 12-game losing streak to its biggest conference rival.
But, as it always has, the Minnesota squad found a way to break through, scoring three goals in the third period to take a 5-3 lead and end Wisconsin’s season and the career of five seniors.
The majority of the first period had passed without either contender getting on the scoreboard, and it was starting to look as if both would be sent to their locker rooms empty-handed, despite two power play opportunities for the Gophers and the Badgers seeing one themselves.
But Wisconsin ended up striking first blood with a goal in the waning minutes of the opening period, reaping the benefit of outshooting an opponent by more than twice as many shots in the first 20 minutes of a game, when junior forward Brittany Ammerman found the back of the Minnesota net on an unassisted shot.
The excitement on the UW bench didn’t last long, though. After play resumed in the second period, Minnesota wasted no time in curbing UW’s energy and taking the lead for themselves, striking twice within 2:12 of the period. The second was scored on a power play while Wisconsin defender Courtney Burke was serving a two-minute checking penalty, which is perhaps why the rest of the UW bench stayed out of the box for the remainder of the period.
If the Badgers were at all discouraged by the sudden momentum shift they certainly didn’t show it as they held the Gophers off for the rest of the middle period and tallied two more goals of their own just before the buzzer went off. Junior defenseman Katarina Zgraja set up teammate Katy Josephs with a goal at 16:20, and later, with just 30 seconds to go, junior forward Karley Sylvester snuck another puck past Minnesota defenders off an assist from senior Madison Packer.
For the second time in the game the Badgers stepped off the ice with the lead in both goals and shots on net, having put up 13 to Minnesota’s 10, the only time this season where they had won even two of the three periods against the Gophers.
By the end of the night, however, the lead had changed hands once again. After a hooking call on UW forward Rachel Jones early on in the third period, the Gophers, who were only just getting started, earned an initial power play goal. The rival bench went on to score twice more, putting the score at 5-3 and solidifying the win.
But Minnesota’s taste of victory was short lived. Last night the defending NCAA champion lost the title to a tough Clarkson University team, who bested the Gophers 5-4, despite Minnesota outshooting the Golden Knights each period and keeping penalty minutes lower as well.
Finishing the season with a record of 28-8-2 (21-5-2 WCHA), no one can argue that the Wisconsin women’s hockey team didn’t see a fair share of successes, despite not making it to the championship round of playoffs. But judging from the talent seen all season long from freshmen to seniors, and the steady contributions made by each line, it’s safe to say that next year could bring the team even closer to seeing that final round.