BLAINE, Minn. — Wisconsin (22-10-2) improved to 15-2-0 since the start of calendar year 2002 and advanced to its first WCHA Women’s Final Five championship game with a 4-1 victory over No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth (21-6-4) at Fogerty Arena on Friday.
“I’m very proud of the fact the way our girls battled through a lot of adversity this year,” said assistant coach Dan Koch. “The work ethic has been strong and it’s starting to show. We’re creating a lot of chances and all our players are stepping up and playing well. It has been a team effort the last two months.”
Forward Karen Rickard put the Badgers ahead at 4:20 of the first period on a spectacular effort. Frosh defender Carla MacLeod fed Rickard in the neutral zone. The sophomore skated down the right side, with a defender in front and a defender behind. She put the puck under the front defender’s stick, picked it up on her backhand and fought off the check before firing a backhand. The puck found the five-hole on UMD goaltender Tuula Puputti for the 1-0 lead.
Meghan Hunter extended the lead for the Badgers with a power-play goal at 11:11. Just 10 seconds after UMD went off for the game’s first penalty, MacLeod dumped the puck in along the left boards. The puck bounced off the boards at the players’ entrance to the ice and past Puputti. Kendra Antony picked up the puck and fed Hunter in front for an open-net goal, her 23rd of the season.
The Badgers grabbed a 3-0 lead at 5:35 of the second period. The teams skated four-on-four as Antony took the puck just inside her blue line. The junior’s pass through the neutral zone was behind MacLeod, but the frosh tipped it past the last UMD defender. Sis Paulsen’s penalty expired at that moment, and the junior picked up the puck coming out of the box. She skated in alone on Puputti and beat the goaltender through the legs for her eighth score of the year.
Minnesota-Duluth finally cracked the Badger defense late in the second when Tricia Guest beat UW goalie Jackie MacMillan. Michelle McAteer raced around the outside of the UW defense and centered the puck. Guest found the loose puck and slipped it under MacMillan’s arm to close the game to 3-1.
Wisconsin regained its three-goal lead early in the third period when Jackie Friesen scored her seventh of the season. Amy Vermeulen took a shot from along the left boards that Friesen redirected past UMD relief goalie Patricia Sautter. The goal, at 3:27, was also assisted by Paulsen.
MacMillan and the Badger defense were stellar as the Badgers won their third consecutive game against the defending NCAA champion Bulldogs. MacMillan made 22 saves and improved to 22-9-1 on the season. UMD’s Puputti made nine saves and fell to 9-5-0 before getting replaced after the Badgers’ third score. Sautter made six saves in a relief effort.
“I think Duluth had some quality chances in the first half of the game,” MacMillan said. “I made those saves and my team got the rebounds out for me.”
Wisconsin next plays Minnesota, a 4-1 winner over Ohio State, in the championship game on Saturday at 7:05 p.m.
“Our coaches have come together nicely,” said MacLeod. “With Tracey and Dan stepping up to the plate and really taking control of this team. Forrest Karr, joining us as well, has really helped us out tremendously.”