MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Badgers had no trouble doing something during the shootout that they struggled to accomplish for the other 65 minutes of their game versus the Minnesota Gophers—beat Noora Räty.
The top ranked Badgers (23-2-2 overall, 17-2-2-2 in the WCHA) sent Brooke Ammerman, Meghan Duggan, and Brianna Decker against the sophomore goaltender for the Gophers (18-6-2, 13-6-2-1), and all three recorded shoot-out goals, giving the home team the extra conference point. In the national picture, the game counts as a 2-2 over-time tie.
“Obviously it was a good up and down game,” Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson said. “I thought we had several good opportunities throughout the game to regain the lead. With Minnesota’s goaltender playing the way she was playing, it was difficult to score, so overall it was a very good effort by our team. I’m pretty happy with it.”
For the second straight game, Wisconsin was extended to an extra session after holding a lead entering the third period. Minnesota-Duluth scored twice in the final three minutes a week earlier to salvage a tie, and a Kelly Terry goal off of a face off at 1:16 of the third allowed Minnesota to do the same.
“Just depending on how the other center lines up, if I manage to get the puck through her and make a quick pass, Kelly does a great job of getting open and just puts it in an open net,” said Gopher center Sarah Davis who won the draw and fed Terry in close.
The Gophers may have had more riding on the game’s outcome than Badgers, whose lead in the WCHA race has now grown to a near insurmountable 13 points with only seven games remaining. The single point allows Minnesota to hold off North Dakota by a single point in the battle for second place.
“As of now, we’re 1-1-1 against the best team in the country,” Gopher head coach Brad Frost said. “To get a tie there on their home ice and having to fight back from a goal down two separate times, I think that’s something positive for our young team to take away.”
Duggan gave Wisconsin the early lead just 2:08 into the game, beating Räty with a rebound shot from a bad angle while on the power play. Stefanie McKeough and Hillary Knight added the assists.
“For us to capitalize on our first power play of the game was huge,” Duggan said. “It set the tone, and we went from there.”
The visiting team knotted the game 1-1 only 91 seconds into the second frame with rookies Davis and Terry being instrumental. This time Terry earned an assist on a goal Davis deflected by goalie Alex Rigsby.
“Sam (Downey) just had the puck at the blue line, she saw a lane there, and she shot a nice, hard shot along the ice that I just managed to get a stick on,” Davis said. “Fortunately, it went in.”
Mallory Deluce put the Badgers in front 2-1 at 14:46, one timing a pass from Decker over Räty’s shoulder with Duggan also assisting. Wisconsin dominated the middle period in shots on goal by an 18 to 6 margin. They enjoyed an edge in all four sessions in shots, finishing with a 48-25 advantage overall.
“When you’re playing a team like Wisconsin, similar to other top teams in the country, they transition so quick,” Frost said. “They’ve got some horses up front that can make some plays.”
Duggan and Decker are clearly two of those playmakers. With their points in the game, they ran their personal consecutive-game scoring streaks out to 23 and 18 games respectively. Duggan’s mark is the longest in Badger history.
“We know it’s not going to get any easier tomorrow,” Frost said. “We gave up a lot of shots; Noora stood the test and was tremendous for us tonight. We need to find a way to limit those shots and get a few more pucks to the net ourselves.”
Although this is the first season Johnson and Duggan have faced Räty in WCHA action, they’ve opposed her in international competition.
“I’ve seen her for four or five years now with Finland, and I know she can play,” Johnson said. “So in order to score, you have to earn your goals. I thought on our power play in the third period, we had plenty of opportunities. We hit the pipe a few times, but that’s hockey. Sometimes the puck is going to bounce for you, and other nights the goaltender is going to play really well. We persevered and won the shootout.”
Duggan believes her team can use Friday’s lessons to their advantage in Saturday’s rematch.
“[Räty is] obviously a strong goalie, and we face her time and time again,” Duggan said. “We are finally starting to figure out how to beat her. She’s obviously made some great saves, and we outshot them by 20 or so shots, so we just have to use the saves that she made and put it into power for tomorrow and try to beat her.”
Wisconsin figures to get additional power from a partisan crowd as the Badgers are featuring a “Fill the Bowl” promotion, where fans can get admission for a dollar, in the hope of setting a new attendance mark for their indoor games while raising money for Second Harvest Foodbank.