In what was one of the most bizarre endings to a regular season as of late, both the University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota women’s hockey teams skated away from their finals series with neither a win nor a loss under their belts.
In typical Border Battle fashion, the No. 1 Badgers (27-2-4, 22-2-4 WCHA) and the No. 4 University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Golden Gophers (23-5-5, 19-4-5) fought tooth and nail to the final buzzers of both games last weekend.
With both squads giving everything they had, the series’ strategy shifted toward a war of attrition in the waning minutes of each match.
Aside from the classic state rivalry, these two teams have years of bad blood between them. For the past three years, it has been Minnesota who has ended Wisconsin’s season during the semifinal round of the NCAA Frozen Four tournament.
On the other hand, Wisconsin has managed to take home the WCHA conference championship the last two years, defeating Minnesota 1-0 last year on their home ice at Ridder Arena.
Even though the Gophers are the defending national champions, Minnesota came in behind Wisconsin team in the USCHO.com and USA TODAY preseason polls, when the committees chose the Badgers as their No. 1 team.
Wisconsin has managed to keep that ranking for the entirety of their season, and Minnesota has remained at arms length from their original No. 2 spot.
It was clear the criteria that gave the Badgers a slight edge in the eyes of the ranking committees were in effect during Saturday’s matchup. After one entirely scoreless periods went into the books, both team’s buckled town and tried to outshine their opponent, hoping to finally produce the game’s first goal.
Minnesota would get on the board first with a goal late into the second period, but Wisconsin’s own Sarah Nurse would answer back with a netter in the third.
With things locked at one at the end of regulation, this year’s chapter of the rivalry needed to be settled in overtime – something that hasn’t boded well for the Badgers lately.
Overtime between the two teams tends to favor Minnesota, with the Gophers defeating Wisconsin in overtime during last year’s Frozen Four tournament. But the Badgers managed to hold their own, and a shoot-out was necessary to determine who kept the points.
It was UW’s Jenny Ryan, the fifth shooter in this shoot-out lineup, who would seal the deal for the Badgers on the first night. Little did they know, a second shoot-out would be required to determine Sunday’s winner.
After three hard-fought periods and an intensely battled overtime round, the Gophers and Badgers were still scoreless. Both Wisconsin’s Ann-Renée Desbiens and Minnesota’s Sidney Peters faced many challenging shots, but managed to guard their nets determined not to be goaltender that cost their team the game.
Wisconsin already faced two shootouts this year, one the previous night and a 12-round doozy against the University of Minnesota, Duluth earlier in the season. Before the season finale in Minneapolis, Wisconsin had never finished consecutive overtime game in a shoutout all season.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, Minnesota would come out on top during this sudden-death ending, with Gopher captain Lee Stecklein sliding the puck past Desbiens to seal the deal for Minnesota.
With such a unique ending to their season, the best thing Wisconsin can do is look forward. WCHA will soon announce the official schedule for the first round of playoffs, and the Badgers need to look toward locking down the WCHA title for a third year in a row.