MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Rudyard Kipling wrote, “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same …” In Ridder Arena for the WCHA tournament final, those two imposters changed sides quickly.
Wisconsin captain Carla MacLeod rescued her team back from a 2-0 deficit with two extra attacker goals in the final minute, only to see disaster strike. Before the Badgers could take the jubilant feeling to the locker room, they were whistled for a pair of minor penalties, giving Minnesota a 5-on-3 advantage to start the extra session.
“The coaches’ room was pretty quiet, and then we just had to decide to put it behind us and go out there with a 5-on-3 and move forward,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson.
Krissy Wendell took a cross-ice pass from Kelly Stephens and flipped it past Meghan Horras just 19 seconds into overtime to give No. 1 Minnesota (33-2-2) its third WCHA title in four years and send No. 3 Wisconsin (28-8-1) home empty-handed once again.
“Basically, we just wanted to get a shot at the net and pepper the goalie and just find a way to bury it,” Wendell said. “We made a couple quick passes, and put it across, and I didn’t quite get all of it, but it fluttered in there — got enough of it.”
Trailing 2-0, Wisconsin pulled Horras with 1:12 remaining. Minnesota attempted to keep the puck pinned along the boards, but it squirted free to MacLeod at the right point. Her drive along the ice snuck past Jody Horak and inside the far post with 50 seconds to go.
The Badgers celebrated, dumped the puck into the Minnesota end, and once more replaced Horras with an extra skater. Again the puck wound up on MacLeod’s stick, and her wrister from the circle found the net high on the short side of a screened Horak just 26 seconds later.
“We needed to get some pucks to the net and create some scoring chances, either through a direct shot or some type of rebound,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said.
“It is not a good feeling as the coach on the other team,” Halldorson said.
The bad feeling for the Wisconsin coach came immediately afterward. Referee Jay Mendel assessed an interference penalty and a high-sticking call on the Badgers in the final 14 seconds of regulation. Johnson made his displeasure with the calls clear as he left the ice prior to OT. Afterward, he showed class and restraint in his comments.
“I’ve been around hockey a long time, you see a lot of strange things happen,” Johnson said. “I’m from the school that you let the players decide the game.”
Earlier, the game looked like a typical Minnesota and Wisconsin meeting — well played, but lacking scoring. Natalie Darwitz gave the Gophers the first lead on the power play with just five seconds remaining in the second period.
“You’re dealing with world class players,” Johnson said. “There’s not many people that can take the puck like Krissy did and throw a saucer pass over to Natalie and one-time it into the net.”
Bobbi Ross added to the lead early in the third period when she went upstairs with a power play rebound. It appeared that lead would hold up, until the wild final minute plus of action.
“Wisconsin is a great team, and we had to overcome that end of the third period problem,” Halldorson said. “Get back out there and get the job done, and I’m proud of our effort and it’s a great accomplishment. But I give Wisconsin a lot of credit, because they’re a very good team.”
As was often the case earlier in the season, the Minnesota power play was the difference. The Gophers turned six penalties against Wisconsin into three power play goals.
“When you’ve got people like Krissy Wendell, Natalie Darwitz, Stephens, and Bobbi Ross on there, it’s pretty easy,” Minnesota defenseman Lyndsay Wall said. “They make you look pretty good. They do a lot of tic-tac-toe plays. They just see the ice really well. You just trust them. You just know where they’re going to be, and they know where you are at all times.”
“That was a barnburner,” said Halldorson.
But the Badgers were left feeling like they were the ones who were burned.