MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Two years ago we went to two overtimes, last year we went to four, and Im sure you all didnt want us to go to six this year, Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said.
This time, the Badgers (28-8-3) needed just 89 seconds of bonus hockey to eliminate Minnesota (27-7-4) and advance to a Frozen Four semifinal versus Harvard.
Jinelle Zaugg put a shot on the Gopher net, and in the ensuing pile around the crease, rookie Mallory Deluce managed to get the puck over the goal line.
It was kind of like a chip, so I think the goalie was fumbling it a little bit, Zaugg said. She kind of fell back and it went in, and she pulled it out right away. A lucky bounce on our part for sure.
Wisconsin would not have made it to the extra session without goals from two other first-year forwards, Kelly Nash and Hillary Knight. Knights goal came when the Badgers caught Minnesota with a lone defender back just 14 seconds into the third period, erasing a one-goal deficit.
We wanted to go out and obviously score early, and we did a great job of that, goaltender Jessie Vetter said. [Knight] had a fantastic goal, and that definitely helped, getting the goal early. Momentum was back on our side, and that was huge.
Vetter, who recorded 21 saves, has now backstopped a trip to the Frozen Four in each of her three seasons. That streak looked to be in jeopardy during the final minute of regulation as the Gophers broke into the zone.
I saw it was a 3-on-1, and then I realized who it was, Vetter said. It was [Erica] McKenzie, Bobbi [Ross], and [Gigi] Marvin — that’s not the three people you want coming at you.
Each of the trio had at least 20 goals on the season.
We did a good job of making them pass back, and Zaugg did a great job of backchecking and took it away from [Ross], Vetter said.
It was kind of surprising when it first developed, but it was so early on that we really didnt get a chance to play it out, Ross said. Its unfortunate that we didnt have the opportunity to generate something there, but they did their jobs and they backchecked.
The Gophers needed every tick of the clock in the second period to grab their only lead of the game. Marvin got the puck ahead to a breaking Emily West.
I think I was cheating a little bit, because I was expecting her to pass, Vetter said. It went off me and went in.
A green light, not a red one, greeted Wests shot, but referee Dan Lick ruled that the puck had gone in before time had expired.
Marvin scored the only special teams goal of the night on a first period power play. Anya Millers shot was partially blocked, and Ross moved it ahead to Marvin. Marvin waited until Vetter went down, and then roofed the puck over her.
All four of the [Badger penalty killers] were crashing on that side, and [Ross] kicked it right to me, Marvin said. I could have shot, but thank goodness I just pulled it back and put it in.
Some nights, its a game of bounces and opportunities, and weve been fortunate this year, Johnson said.
One such bounce went Wisconsins way as the defending NCAA champs opened the scoring at 8:19 of the first period. Kayla Hagen threw the puck goalward, and it bounced off of Kelly Nashs upper body and into the net as she skated past the crease.
Our freshmen have stepped up so much since the beginning of the season, Zaugg said. We really rely on them a lot.
We started off with a young hockey club this year, Johnson said. Weve got a bunch of freshmen. In the first couple months, they needed to mature and get some experience. And theyve become a better team, especially since December.
The Badgers have only lost two games, both to Minnesota-Duluth, during the 2008 portion of the schedule.
As long as weve been here, weve gone into overtime to go to the Frozen Four, Vetter said. It makes it pretty exciting.
We certainly feel bad for [Minnesota], but thats part of what we do in sports — somebody’s got to go home in defeat tonight, Johnson said. All of their seniors have made great contributions, not only to their university, but to our league, so we certainly want to congratulate them.
Ross, Miller, McKenzie, Whitney Graft, and Jenelle Philipczyk played their final game wearing the Minnesota M.
We went out in one heck of a hockey game, Ross said. That will be something else that will be easier to accept once were not just sitting here moments after ending our season.
Right now, were heartbroken and its hard to see past this game. But when we spoke in the locker room briefly after the game, one word that just kept popping up was how much fun we had. As a group, whether its while were playing a game, or while were hanging out, or while were on a bus on a road trip, theres never a dull moment. Its just been an amazing ride.
I think our seniors set the tone from day one, and carried that tone on throughout the season, and even into tonight, Gopher coach Brad Frost said. Theyre a special group, and were going to miss them. Hopefully, the rest of our kids learn from them and everything that they gave, both on and off the ice. Really proud of the kids; couldnt have asked for one more thing from them.
Marvin hopes to capture that spirit in leading next seasons Gophers.
Whether we were down; whether we were on the 21-game unbeaten streak, they just had so much fun coming to the ice, which is what its all about, she said. They love the game so much, and I think thats what weve got to bring next year.
The Badgers dont get to enjoy the win for long, as they face top-ranked and once-beaten Harvard on Thursay.
If I was playing, Id be all fired up, Johnson said. Now were down to four teams. Were going to have a great bus ride home.
Its a long journey to get here, you work hard, and youre thankful that youre going to get an opportunity.
Wisconsin has made the most of those opportunities in winning back-to-back NCAA titles.
Weve been practicing for six months, and once you go over some things after you watch some video, its time to play again, Johnson said. So I think the quick turnaround, and obviously the importance of the game, the excitement of the atmosphere — well be ready to go.