MADISON, Wis. — With her team leading 1-0 six and half minutes into Saturday night’s game against Minnesota, Wisconsin’s Brianna Decker started an innocent rush with the puck over 100 feet from the opposing net short-handed.
About seven seconds later, Decker had the Badgers goal of the season and the game’s winning score, as Wisconsin polished off a 3-1 win in front of a women’s college hockey record 10,668 fans at the Kohl Center.
“We took a penalty, (but) Brianna made a great individual effort,” Badgers coach Mark Johnson said. “We started the game with great momentum (helped by the crowd) and that play certainly added to it.”
On the spectacular shorty, Decker got hold of the puck just outside her own blue line, then beat two Golden Gophers forwards up the ice.
Now on a one-on-two rush, Decker faked Minnesota sophomore defenseman Mira Jalosuo out of her skates on an outside-inside move, then beat freshman forward Kelly Terry to the far post. All the sophomore forward had to do at that point was put a backhand deke past sophomore goaltender Noora Raty.
“I just happened to get in front of a shot (to start the rush),” Decker said. “Their defense was a little slow getting back, and I think (Jalosuo) overcommitted a little bit to the outside, which allowed me to take it to the net and score on the backhand.”
Decker’s tally was one of two Wisconsin goals in an opening 20 minutes that was dominated by the Badgers. Wisconsin’s other goal of the period came on a two-on-one play just 46 seconds in.
Senior forward Meghan Duggan cut wide on the Golden Gophers defense, then fed an open Hilary Knight on the far post. Knight beat Raty high to the far side to open the scoring.
“It was an incredible feeling scoring that goal,” Knight said. “You don’t get a chance to score in front 10,000 people all that often.”
After scoring, Knight tried to do her best Alex Ovechkin impression by jumping into the right corner glass. However, the result was a fall to the ice and some good-natured ribbing from her teammates.
“Hilary was so excited that she ended up falling,” Duggan said. “It was one of those things where she couldn’t control her emotion. I gave her hard a time about it especially after they showed a few times on the JumboTron, but the bottom line is that she put the puck in the back of the net and that was huge for us.”
Minnesota returned Decker’s short-handed favor with one of its own in the second period. After forcing a turnover at center ice, Golden Gophers sophomore forward Becky Kortum beat Knight and Badgers defenseman Saige Pacholok to the net before sliding a deke through Wisconsin freshman goaltender Alex Rigsby’s legs.
“We were right back in it after that great play by Becky Kortum,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “She read the play, was able to poke the puck, go in alone with people draped all over her and was able to finish. It gave us some great momentum, which we needed at that moment.”
Wisconsin answered seven minutes later with another special-teams goal, this time on a power play. Skating in traffic on the left side of the Gophers defense, senior forward Carolyne Prevost took what looked like innocent shot on net, but the rolling puck had eyes and eluded Raty’s pads.
Minnesota (18-7-2, 13-7-2-1 WCHA ) took the play to the Badgers in the third period, but Rigsby stymied the final comeback attempt. The Golden Gophers had their chances, including two power plays in the final six minutes.
“I am really proud of our team,” Frost said. “The last 40 minutes, we were the better team, but the first 20 minutes we weren’t. Wisconsin came out with good energy (feeding) off the big crowd like we knew they would. After that, I thought we settled in and had our chances.”
Meanwhile, Wisconsin (24-2-2, 18-2-2-2) managed to finish off of four-game stretch of games with No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 4 Minnesota undefeated with two wins in regulation and two victories in shootouts.
“Both weekends were very intense,” Decker said. “Those were our two toughest series, but we still have North Dakota and Bemidji (in the next two weeks) and we can’t take it easy on them either.”
Video: Wisconsin’s Brianna Decker
Video: Wisconsin’s Meghan Duggan
Video: Wisconsin’s Hilary Knight
Video: Minnesota coach Brad Frost