MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Few would be surprised that Minnesota scored a late power play goal to defeat Wisconsin, 2-1. The surprise was that it came from the Gophers’ second power play unit.
Sophomore Andrea Nichols lifted in her seventh goal of the season for Minnesota (23-1-2, 18-0-2 WCHA) at 14:13 of the third period, less than five minutes after the Badgers (18-7-1, 12-7-1 WCHA) had drawn even.
“Throughout the night, my line had quite a few chances,” Nichols said. “We were like, ‘Lets just keep plugging away.’ When I got the goal, the puck was just sitting there, and we all kept whacking at it. Finally, we got it in, and I jumped about the height of the goal.”
Sophomore Becky Wacker and freshman Erica McKenzie earned the assists.
“I’m really happy for that group, for Andrea in particular, because she worked so hard, and then she was rewarded today with a great goal,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “She made a nice shot, huge for us. Clutch.”
Wisconsin looked poised to earn at least a point in Minneapolis midway through the third period. Twin Cities native Sharon Cole stole the puck from Jody Horak behind the Gopher cage and scored on a wraparound before the goaltender could get back in position.
“Turnovers, just working hard to squirt the puck free,” Cole said of the Badgers’ attempts to generate offense. “Taking shots from the point, crash the net, and create any chance you can to put the puck in the net.”
Horak felt responsible for the Badger goal and was determined not to yield another.
“After they got that goal, we were able to come back on our power play,” she said. “After we got that one, I was just like ‘Thank God’, basically. I’m not going to let them score again. I owe it to the team for that goal.”
Wisconsin upped its shot total to 19, compared to only 14 on Saturday. The quality of the scoring chances improved as well.
“I liked the effort that we put in today,” said Badger coach Mark Johnson. “Obviously, we maybe didn’t get as many shots as we anticipated, but the last eight or nine minutes of the first period, we had some good quality chances to score. You’re looking for that goal to give you a little energy, a little spark. When Sharon scored in the third period, I was feeling real comfortable.”
While Wisconsin received a boost in momentum, Minnesota had to fight a letdown after losing the lead they had enjoyed for more than a period.
“There was a breakdown by several people in their own zone,” Halldorson said. “I just think that this team finds ways to win games. You can feel it on the bench. They weren’t satisfied with a tie. We knew that we needed to stay aggressive and get another goal.”
A Wisconsin penalty at 12:17 of the final period provided the opportunity. Minnesota’s top power play crew applied pressure, but were unable to beat Meghan Horras, who finished with 34 saves.
“We did a great job of killing the penalty off and got ourselves a faceoff situation with 26 seconds to go,” Johnson said. “The big unit goes off and you’re feeling pretty good. But they’ve got some players, and give them credit. They got the job done with four seconds to go and were able to get the winning goal. We still had a chance. We had a power play with a couple minutes to go. We put forth the effort, but came up a little short. It seems to be the lingo when we play these guys.”
Minnesota’s power play opened the scoring in the second period. Bobbi Ross camped out on the doorstep and converted a Natalie Darwitz to Krissy Wendell passing play.
“Krissy put that pass perfect, right to me,” Ross said. “I didn’t do much of anything. It was hard work, the whole power play, they cycled it around, and I was just the last one to hit it when it went in.”
Wisconsin played like a team deserving of its No. 4 ranking, even though they finished the season with just a point in four games against the Gophers.
“I think we felt more comfortable in today’s game,” Cole said. “Yesterday, we were probably a little timid and played defensive. Today, we threw it all at them. Skate hard, and don’t be scared that Darwitz, Wendell and Stephens are out there.”