MINNEAPOLIS — For all that’s changed in women’s hockey over the past four years, some things just don’t seem to — such as Minnesota-Duluth winning postseason games and Wisconsin coming up short in the WCHA tournament.
On the strength of a goal and assist from UMD senior Jenny Potter, who played like she wanted to extend her career another two games, the Bulldogs took a 3-1 lead in the second period and never looked back. The result was a devastating blow to Wisconsin’s NCAA selection chances, and could pave the way for three teams to be selected from the ECAC, though UMD still holds out hope for a berth.
The No. 6 Bulldogs (20-11-2) feel they are at their peak form now that they’ve had three full lines for three straight weeks for the first time since October. On the other end, the No. 5 Badgers (24-6-3) were playing without freshman defenseman Bobbi-Jo Slusar, whose absence coach Mark Johnson.felt turned Wisconsin into a different team.
“Overall this was the best our team’s played all year,” Potter said. “It was great to see one line after another going out there.”
The Bulldogs’ newfound vigor provided them with a dominant forecheck in the second period, and UMD dominated possession offensively. UMD coach Shannon Miller credited the Bulldogs’ constant motion drills for preventing the Badgers from having defensive success.
“I think the most obvious reason why we were so successful today is this is the hardest our team has ever worked collectively from the net out,” Miller said. “We had a great forecheck. We pinched when we should, we made good decisions that created turnovers and put us on the attack. We kept our feet moving.”
Sophomore goaltender Meghan Horras was all that kept the Badgers in the game early in the period against the Bulldogs’ top line of Caroline Ouellette, Noemie Marin, and Jenny Potter. She stopped an Ouellette shot from point-blank and then nabbed the follow-up from Marin with her glove while sprawled on the ice. She stopped a Jessica Koizumi putback at the crease just moments later.
But it wasn’t long before UMD started having better luck with its second chances. At 4:37 of the second period. Potter broke the 1-1 tie by putting in the high rebound off an Ouellette shot that had pulled Horras down.
After nearly a full second period of breakout futility, Wisconsin finally had some success at the 15-minute mark, but the Badgers wasted a chance by mishandling the puck, and the Bulldogs broke out the other way. The result was that the Badgers weren’t organized defensively, the Bulldogs operated at will in the offensive end and finally scored when Potter took the puck to the right side of the net and fed across to Marin for the 3-1 lead at 15:46.
For the second period, the Bulldogs outshot the Badgers 13-2 and outscored them 2-0. Johnson thought it could have been a different story had it only been a one-goal deficit.
“I thought the first period was a real good hockey game,” Johnson said. “I liked the pace, and I liked the speed. From that point on, we didn’t play our game. Uncharacteristic, we got hemmed in and we didn’t get many chances.”
Although the Bulldogs shortened up a bit in the second period when they poured on the attack, they rolled three lines for much of the game and that made a difference in the end. The Badgers kept working down the stretch, but to little avail in terms of quality chances.
“I think we kept our shifts short,” Ouellette said. “At no point in the game did we feel worn down.”
Now Wisconsin will hope for the best in terms of its NCAA chances. Johnson thought his team would have wrapped up an NCAA berth with a win. Now Wisconsin is focused on whether it can get a bid with just a third-place showing.
“We won’t fold up our tent yet,” said Badger captain Carla MacLeod. “We’ll wait until they announce the Final Four teams. If we can come out tomorrow and get a win, we’re still in the ballgame.”
Even with this win, UMD still appears to be a longshot for the Frozen Four, so the Bulldogs are trying to relish what they call an underdog role. They even started wearing hats featuring the word “underdogs.” Miller says they’ve typically been hunted, but now they are the hunters.
Johnson, for one, didn’t think too much of the new Bulldog theme. After all, this a UMD team that only has two total postseason defeats through three NCAA tournaments, four WCHA tournaments, and one AWCHA tournament, and this day’s result did nothing to change that.
“I don’t think a three-time defending [NCAA] champion is ever an underdog until somebody beats them,” Johnson said.