MINNEAPOLIS — At least for one night, scoring against the Gophers proved very easy for Wisconsin. In 30 previous meetings, the Badgers (11-1-0, 9-1-0 WCHA) had never scored more than four goals. On Saturday night, that was their margin in a 6-2 win.
“I challenged our team before the game, and they responded very well,” said Coach Mark Johnson.
Sharon Cole made the most of her final regular season appearance in front of family and friends who once watched her play at nearby Bloomington Jefferson High School. Cole scored twice and added two assists on her way to being named No. 1 star for the second consecutive night.
Was she impressed?
“I think we could have played a little better,” Cole said.
“Sharon’s just blossomed into a very good all-around player,” Johnson said. “She’s on the power play. She kills penalties. Just to see a young kid mature and grow and develop the way she has is very rewarding.”
Clinging to a 2-1 lead as the first period wound down, Cole scored what proved to be the game winner with 45 seconds remaining.
“I was playing high, the third person high, and the puck came out to Bobbi [Slusar] on the point,” Cole said. “I just turned around, and she was shooting it wide. I just redirected it with the stick, and turned around and it was in the net. I was pretty happy.”
Cole added an exclamation point with a power play goal for a 4-1 lead in the first minute of the second period. She took a pass from Slusar and beat Brittony Chartier from a bad angle, reminiscent of her goal on Friday.
“I think I was just in a position where she hadn’t moved across yet. I was just kind of putting it on net,” Cole said.
Her linemates, Sara Bauer and Jinelle Zaugg, each contributed a goal and an assist.
“We’re coming along,” Bauer said. “I think we’re still getting used to each other.”
For Minnesota (9-5-0, 4-4-0 WCHA), the game was another in a string of home-ice disasters on Saturday nights.
“I was not happy with tonight’s game at all,” Coach Laura Halldorson said. “There were a lot of breakdowns, a lot of problems, and I know we’re capable of playing much better.”
Freshman Tia Hanson gave Wisconsin the early lead when Slusar sent her in alone and she beat Chartier high on the glove side. After Nikki Burish jammed home a rebound at 5:51 for a 2-0 lead, a reeling Gopher team called timeout.
“It’s very rare that I’m going to have to call time out in the first period,” Halldorson said. “I just felt like our heads weren’t in the game. I can’t explain it that’s a good team we played, not to take anything away from them. We dug ourselves a huge hole and couldn’t get out of it.”
Initially the timeout paid dividends, as the Gophers pressured from the face off and were rewarded with a 5-on-3 opportunity. Anya Miller scored high to Christine Dufour’s blocker side from the point, and Minnesota was back in business.
“When you have some momentum, the one thing that will take it away is taking some penalties, and they scored on the first 5-on-3,” Johnson said. “And then we weathered the storm, but it gave them some energy and got them back into the game. Obviously the third goal was big for us.”
Bauer’s goal at 3:43 of the second period ended the night for Chartier, who allowed five goals on 11 shots. Kim Hanlon saved nine of 10 in relief.
For the Badgers, Dufour stopped 25 of the 27 shots she faced. Defenseman Meaghan Mikkelson assisted on three of the Badger goals.
“It reminded me a little of that Duluth game, where we just seemed to lose it, and our focus isn’t there,” Halldorson said. “The penalty kill, you can’t go out there without focus. They’re three-for-four that’s unacceptable for a penalty kill.”
Over Thanksgiving weekend, the Badgers head east to take on Dartmouth and New Hampshire. The match-up against the Big Green is especially tempting, because they ended Wisconsin’s season in the NCAA tournament last March.
“We’ll be going to get back at them, especially since we thought we could have won that game last year,” said Cole.
The fifth loss leaves Minnesota’s season in a precarious position.
“When you look at Minnesota, they’re going to be a much better hockey club in January,” Johnson said.
The Gophers can only hope so. Meanwhile, they have two weeks to prepare before traveling to Grand Forks to play North Dakota.
“Maybe we need a week to figure out how to become better, but it’s a long time to wait before we get another chance to redeem ourselves,” Halldorson said.