MADISON, Wisc. — The team scoring first was unbeaten in the previous seven meetings between the Gophers and Badgers. That trend continued on Friday night in Madison.
Scoring first takes on greater importance in a matchup where each team struggles to score against the other.
Minnesota (20-8-1, 15-7-1 WCHA) got a goal apiece from its top three forward lines. Kim Hanlon turned in another impressive performance in keeping Wisconsin (24-4-1, 19-3-1 WCHA) off the scoreboard until the game’s final minute. It added up to a 3-1 decision for a Gopher team fighting for an invitation to the NCAA tournament come March.
“That’s a huge win for us,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson. “Wisconsin is a great team. It took a big effort from our players tonight. I thought we played with a lot of emotion and a lot of heart today. We did the little things, and put the puck in the net enough times to pull out a huge win for us.”
Senior wing Krista Johnson from Minnesota gave her team a big boost and the lead when she found the net via the five-hole on goalie Meghan Horras at 11:08 of the first period.
“Those two, [Liz] Palkie and [Becky] Wacker, were down working it hard,” Johnson said. “I came in late and stayed up high, and recognized that I was kind of open. Liz looked up and put it right on the stick. Pretty much, they did all of the work.”
She admitted that her third goal of the season wasn’t quite what she intended.
“I was just ready to rip it, it kind of like fluttered, but it went in,” she said. “Whatever it takes.”
Palkie’s centering pass from behind the net earned her the lone assist.
The Badgers had three power plays sandwiched around Minnesota’s first marker, which produced nine of their 13 shots on goal for the first period. Hanlon turned them all away, allowing the Gophers to take a 1-0 lead into the locker room.
“We came out fired up right away, but when we got those penalties, it kind of puts you back on your heels,” Hanlon said. “You’ve got to make sure you play tight D. I think that was a very big step for us, getting out of those penalty kills.”
The Badgers did manage to ring a shot loudly off the goal post during their third power play.
“You’ve got to love those pipes,” Hanlon said.
“She made some great saves the pipes made a couple saves,” Halldorson said. “We got some bounces there, too. She just is a competitor. She definitely had a real strong game for us tonight.”
Wisconsin came out of break re-energized, and smothered Minnesota for more than half of the second period. Though the Badgers pressured, they could not get the equalizer. Instead they lost ground, when frosh Gigi Marvin connected for her tenth goal at 16:04 for the 2-0 lead.
Marvin said, “[Erica McKenzie] had a shot. I think Chelsey Brodt was coming in from defenseman — she had a shot. [Jenelle Philipczyk] shot on net, and then I shot. Four shots, and finally it went in. It was totally a line effort, because we broke it out and knocked it down there. Everyone worked on that one.”
Both McKenzie and Philipczyk were credited with assists.
“They got a little excited, which you do after you score a goal,” said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson. “For ten minutes there, we were pretty good. We hadn’t given up much at all that second period. You don’t score, and all of a sudden, you find yourself down 2-0, one team’s got a little energy, and the other team gets deflated. The last seven or eight minutes, they were pretty good, and we weren’t.”
The game lost some intensity in the third period, and it looked like Hanlon would complete her shutout, but the Badgers converted a late power play after pulling Horras for a two-skater advantage. Stationed at the edge of the crease, Cyndy Kenyon redirected a pass behind Hanlon with 26 seconds remaining, assisted by Nikki Burish and Meaghan Mikkelson.
Wisconsin called time out, plotting a strategy for scoring the equalizer, as in last season’s WCHA championship versus Minnesota.
This time, Bobbi Ross foiled the plan. She picked up the ensuing faceoff, powered through the Wisconsin defense, and slipped the puck under Horras.
Just 10 seconds after a rally had given the Badgers hope, they once again faced a two-goal deficit.
“We were trying to keep it out of the net, but they got a 6-on-4 there at the end,” Hanlon said. “It’s tough to defend against that. We worked hard, and we still won the game. I was confident the whole time. It’s nice to make some key save right away, to get your team even more fired up and get behind you a little more.”
Wisconsin was outshot 28-26 for the evening.
“We had a couple real good opportunities,” Johnson said. “We hit the pipe in the first period. In the third period, we looked like we had one that was going to go in for sure, and all of a sudden a stick comes out of nowhere and deflects it out. When the pucks not going in, those little things make a big difference. Minnesota did a nice job of shutting us down in a lot of areas. Hats off to them for the way they played.”
Captain Sharon Cole of the Badgers thinks luck, or a lack of it, may have played a part in her team’s first two-game losing streak of the season.
“We hit posts, we couldn’t get the puck up the bounces weren’t going for us,” she said. “We’ve got to just keep working. It will come if we keeping working hard, the bounces will come our way.”
Marvin said the Gophers have a shot against anyone in the country: “If we stick to Minnesota hockey — simple basics and fly like we can. Definitely a lot of confidence beating the No. 2 team, a lot of fun, and a lot of energy getting ready for tomorrow’s game.”