Madison, Wis. — The No. 4 Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-4-1, 8-3-1 WCHA) came into Madison this past weekend to take on the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (15-1-2, 11-1-2). The best rivalry in college hockey did not disappoint at La Bahn — the Gophers left with a victory, and the Badgers undefeated streak finally came to an end.
Both games over the weekend were as close as they could get. Game one saw the Gophers get on the board early in the first period, thanks to their stellar top line. Less than 30 seconds into the game, Minnesota’s best player Taylor Heise ripped a shot past Kennedy Blair and into the back of the net.
Toward the end of the period, Minnesota went up 2–0 thanks to a goal from Emily Oden and some help from the Badgers’ goalkeeper, Blair. Peyton Hemp had a breakaway opportunity and found herself all alone in front of the net. Blair aggressively dove and attempted to poke check the puck away. She did so successfully, but the rebound went right to Oden and she had an open net to bury the puck in.
After a somewhat sloppy first period for The Badgers, their best player made her presence felt in the second. Casey O’Brien got Wisconsin on the board thanks to a beautiful cross-ice pass from Maddie Posick.
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The Badgers started to pick up the pace and ended the second period on a 12–1 shot run. At the end of the second, they trailed 2–1.
In the third, Wisconsin tied the game thanks to a three on two opportunity. Some tic-tac-toe passing saw Maddi Wheeler rip a wrist shot past Lauren Bench and tie the game. Nine seconds later, the Gophers answered back.
For the second time in the game, Blair made a crucial mistake — this one cost Wisconsin the game. Minnesota dumped the puck off the faceoff and Blair played it behind her net. She made a blind backhand pass that went right onto the stick of Minnesota’s Catie Skaja.
Yet again, Minnesota had a wide open net to shoot at and Skaja took advantage. The final score for the game saw Minnesota win 3–2.
The Badgers got their first loss of the season thanks to a slow start in the first period and careless mistakes. It’s a game they deserved to lose, but you can’t take anything away from Minnesota’s play.
Game two had a similar structure to game one. The Gophers got on the board first thanks to a goal from Hemp. The Badgers weren’t as sloppy in the first as they were the night before, but they were outshot 14–11.
In the second period, O’Brien yet again answered on behalf of Wisconsin. She hammered a shot that went off Bench’s chest, then rebounded up and over her head into the net. At the end of the second, the border battle was tied 1–1.
In the third, Minnesota’s Emily Zumwinkle was left wide open after a power play opportunity. Though the goal was technically even strength, Makenna Webster was still rushing out of the box when Zumwinkle put the puck in the back of the net.
Two minutes later, the fans at La Bahn had something to cheer for again. O’Brien got her second goal of the game and her third of the weekend. It was quite an impressive shot — the Gophers had numbers in their defensive zone. O’Brien and Wheeler were the only two Badgers in the offensive zone, but O’Brien ripped a wrist shot past the four Gopher defenders and Bench.
At the end of regulation, the game was tied 2–2.
The game went into overtime, and eventually a shootout. The eight-round electrifying shootout saw Minnesota come away with the extra point in the standings.
The Badgers are still ranked No. 1 in USCHO’s poll, but other teams got first place votes after the lackluster weekend. Minnesota improved to No. 4 after a successful weekend in Madison.
Minnesota’s physicality was too tough for the Badgers to handle
Minnesota is one of the more aggressive teams in the league, and it shows on the stat sheet. The Gophers like to lay hits on players all over the ice, and many of their skaters are just flat out bigger than most in the country.
Conversely, Wisconsin is more of a speed and skill type of team. At the end of the weekend, the number one issue for Wisconsin was dealing with the physical style of play from Minnesota.
Lauren Bench’s great weekend
Minnesota’s goalkeeper allowed a total of four goals on 64 shots. Wisconsin might not have played up to standards, but goaltending is the great equalizer in hockey.
They had a tough time getting the puck past a goalie who was having a career weekend. Bench’s efforts in Madison won her WCHA’s Goaltender of the Week award.
Casey O’Brien is the best player in the nation
There isn’t a more fun player to watch in the country right now than O’Brien. O’Brien now has 19 goals in the year, leading the nation.
She is averaging 1.09 goals per game, a number you have to look twice at to make sure it’s right. Her hat trick weekend only added to her unbelievable stats for the year, solidifying her role as the best player in the nation.
Minnesota’s top line is flat-out ridiculous.
One of the most physical and dominant lines in the country showed up this weekend in Madison. Heise, Abigail Boreen and Skaja had tons of ice time all weekend long.
Whenever Heise and Co. were on the ice, they demand the fans’ and skaters’ attention alike. Heise is now second in the nation in goals and one of the best all-around players in the country.