DULUTH, Minn. — Sometimes, it’s just not your night. Minnesota-Duluth ran into one of those times on Saturday against defending champion Wisconsin, and wound up on the short end of a 6-3 decision.
The Bulldogs (3-3-0, 0-2-0 WCHA) won a lot of battles, but lost the war, as the Badgers (7-1-0, 5-1-0 WCHA) scored at key moments to gain a share of the WCHA lead.
“We found a way to win, but certainly, we need to make some improvements in some areas if we’re going to continue,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said.
UMD had the better of play through much of period one, until they were assessed the game’s first penalty at 16:19. Less than a minute later, Hilary Knight let fly from the right point with an uncontested screen stationed in front of Jennifer Harss, and the Badgers had a 1-0 lead.
“The first 12 minutes, we totally controlled the game,” Bulldogs coach Shannon Miller said. “We were high energy, on fire, and creating great scoring chances. They had a beautiful point shot — Hillary Knight, obviously quite the shooter — with a screen. And then I didn’t feel like we responded at all. We caved, and that’s mental toughness and maturity.”
The Bulldogs lost their jump for the remainder of the frame, and Wisconsin took advantage. Brianna Decker got loose in the slot for a two-goal lead. Madison Packer made a great play to send Kelly Jaminski in alone 35 seconds later; Wisconsin had three goals in just over a minute and a half and took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.
“She made a really good two-on-one play,” said Carolyne Prevost, who had the second assist. “She kind of had that defenseman go toward her, and she did almost like a 360 pass to Kelly, who buried it.”
UMD got power-play goals of its own to open and close the second period, the latter on a five-on-three, scored by Pernilla Winberg and Audrey Cornoyer, with assists on both going to Haley Irwin and Jessica Wong.
The Badgers offset those markers by scoring a pair of tallies as well.
Decker found Carolyne Prevost on the weak side to boost the lead back to three at 4-1.
“I actually saw her off the bench, and so I knew if I could get the pass through, she would have a good opportunity to score back door,” Decker said.
Wisconsin’s goal to make it 5-1 was inadvertently directed into their own net by the hosts after Harss had skated to the bench for an extra attacker while a delayed penalty was pending on the Badgers. Saige Pacholok got credit for the goal, and in an irony befitting the play, was also whistled for the penalty.
“Our goalie is coming out of our net because we’re going to be on the power play, and our own player passes it to the point and it ends up in our net,” Miller said. “I’ve never even seen that before in the 25 years I’ve been coaching.”
Katie Wilson scored on a deflection 1:50 into the third period to get UMD back to 5-3 on the scoreboard, but the Bulldogs could get no closer before Prevost ended the proceedings with a more conventional empty-net goal.
“They happened to fumble it a little bit at the point, so it happened to come off some part of my body and then it came out of the zone,” Prevost said. “I just tried to go right to it right away, because it was past that red line so I could just have a free attempt at the empty net.”
Alex Rigsby finished with 46 saves in earning the win, and Johnson credited her with being the difference in the game.
Wisconsin’s first three WCHA series have included North Dakota, Minnesota, and UMD, all top-10 squads.
“The last six games that we’ve had have really tested us, and we’ve fought through it,” Decker said. “It’s a tough schedule in the beginning, but it’s like playoff hockey right now. I think it’s good for our team and giving us lot of experience.”
The Badgers look forward to a rematch of last season’s title game.
“It doesn’t get any easier; we’ve got BU coming in next weekend,” Johnson said. “It’s playoff hockey, but it’s only the month of October.”
UMD hosts North Dakota next weekend, and then travels to Minneapolis a week later.
“We haven’t had much time to develop,” Miller said. “We do have until March, however, these are three tough series in a row, that we’d like a little more time to teach and prepare for.”