MINNEAPOLIS — To their credit, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux stayed even longer than most of the WCHA teams have done on their first foray into the WCHA semifinals, but in the end, the Wisconsin Badgers demonstrated why they are the top-ranked team in the league and the country.
Wisconsin (33-2-2, 24-2-2-2 WCHA) used a three-goal second period to pull away from UND (20-13-3, 16-10-2-0 WCHA), getting a goal at even strength, short-handed, and on the power play to put the Sioux in a hole that they could not escape.
“We had an outstanding second period, and it proved to be the game-winning period for us,” said senior captain Meghan Duggan.
Such is the wealth of talent in Madison that players such as Carolyne Prévost and Mallory Deluce skate on their third line. Each found the net in the middle period, with linemate Kelly Nash earning the primary assist on each with perfect setups.
“The beauty of our team is that we have so much depth that if one line isn’t scoring or producing, the other line is,” Hilary Knight said.
North Dakota coach Brian Idalski points out that the Badgers are able to put out a third line that features two Canadian U-22 players.
“That’s a huge match-up problem,” he said.
Nash took a pass from behind the net from Geena Prough and sent it across to Prévost for a tap-in goal at 6:18.
Wisconsin made it 2-0 just over five minutes later while on a penalty kill. Duggan carried wide on a two-on-one before sliding the puck to Brianna Decker, whose shot beat Sioux goaltender Stephanie Ney along the ice on her blocker side.
“She’s an outstanding player,” Duggan said. “I know that if I can just get her the puck, she’s going to find the back of the net.”
“Against good teams, if you make a little mistake like that, they make you pay for it,” said UND’s Monique Lamoureux-Kolls.
Deluce made the lead three with a power-play goal at 18:14, and although North Dakota had the better chances for much of the third period, neither team did any damage on the scoreboard.
“I was out for a couple of weeks, and we had been working well until then,” Nash said. “I’m just happy we came back together this weekend and were able to pick it right up.”
With the victory, the Badgers advance to their seventh WCHA Championship Game; they’ve won three league tournament titles.
The team skated through a scoreless first period in which Wisconsin went 11 minutes without registering a shot on goal. The Badgers finished with a flurry, piling up 14 shots from that point and nearly getting on the board when Decker set up Knight at the right edge of the crease on a rush, but Knight’s redirection hit the inside of the near pipe and exited just outside the far post.
“Hilary almost scores, it goes pipe-to-pipe, the arms go up on the bench, and right then we realize, all right, let’s pick it up,” Duggan said.
Alex Rigsby made 19 saves in earning the win. Ney stopped 31 shots at the other end.
North Dakota is left to hope that they somehow sneak into the NCAA tournament picture, although the math seems to suggest otherwise.
Wisconsin faces the winner of the second semifinal between Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota tomorrow night.
“We’re excited to win this game; it gives us the opportunity to play for a championship,” said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson.