MINNEAPOLIS — Three times, No. 1 Wisconsin claimed one-goal leads; three times No. 2 Minnesota answered. When Hilary Knight fired a fourth puck past Noora Räty as the final shooter in a three-round shootout, the Badgers (19-1-1, 13-1-1-1 WCHA) had a commanding seven-point lead in the WCHA standings with one head-to-head match remaining.
“A lot of positive things come out, and the most important is you pick up a couple points, which is huge in the standings,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said.
Often, a meeting of top teams, especially coming off a layoff, fails to meet expectations; this one exceeded them.
“That was just a heck of a hockey game, one of the best I’ve ever been a part of,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said.
The action knocked away any rust that the teams may have carried out of the break.
“You come away from here, and all of a sudden you’re back in mid-season form in 60 minutes,” Johnson said.
Brooke Ammerman converted her own rebound with less than six minutes remaining in regulation to put Wisconsin up 3-2, and it appeared that no overtime would be necessary. Ammerman carried into the Minnesota zone on an innocent-looking one-on-two rush, but she managed to split the defense, put a shot on goal, and slide the puck by the goaltender while down on the ice.
“She’s kind of a sly player, but each team has one of those,” Gophers defenseman Anne Schleper said.
The senior wing earned assists on both of the other two Badgers goals, and her three-point performance continued a history of strong performances against Minnesota.
“Just playing against Minnesota is awesome,” Ammerman said. “You get to play at a high level. Both teams can skate. It’s a good skill game, it’s physical, it’s fun, and I guess, right place, right time.”
Minnesota (17-3-1, 11-3-1-0 WCHA) went on a power play with just over three minutes to play, and Megan Bozek beat Alex Rigsby with a low drive from the right circle a minute later.
“Our power play has been working well tonight, as a corps,” Bozek said. “I just had an opening and was hoping to get someone to deflect it, and luckily, it went right in.”
The Gophers looked like they may have taken their first lead in the final minute when Jen Schoullis knocked the puck by Rigsby, but the goal was overturned upon review.
“[Schoullis] said that she had hit it with her hand,” Bozek said. “So we kind of knew, but if the refs don’t see that, then that would have been great for us.”
Minnesota enjoyed a six-to-one advantage in shots on goal in the extra session, but was unable to get the game-winner.
“We were able to kill the penalty off there with a minute and change to go in overtime, which was good, because they had scored two nice power-play goals to tie the game at different points,” Johnson said.
The visiting Badgers grabbed the early 1-0 lead on a power play less than three minutes into the contest. Räty committed to stopping Brianna Decker in front, and Decker was able to get the puck to Carolyne Prévost, alone on the backdoor.
From that point on, it looked like the visitors might blow the Gophers out of the building, outshooting the hosts 16-4 in the opening frame.
“Obviously, we started extremely slow, and Wisconsin took it to us in the first period,” Frost said. “Noora was up to the task for all but one. We just did so many good things there, down a couple of our better forwards, and down one of our defensemen halfway through the game.”
Between injuries and national team commitments, Minnesota finished the game without forwards Sarah Davis and Emily West and defenseman Kelly Seeler, while Wisconsin had to make do without defensemen Brittany Haverstock and Saige Pacholok and forward Blayre Turnbull.
Schleper brought the crowd of 2,554, the Gophers’ largest of the season, to life at 13:49 of the second period when she zipped a high wrist shot into the top corner, eluding a screened Rigsby. The goal was point number 100 in Schleper’s Minnesota career.
“I kind of told myself I want to make it at least a goal and not an assist,” she said. “It worked out good for me.”
That served to swing momentum in Minnesota’s favor, and it had a 17-6 shot advantage in the middle period.
“From that point on, they started playing like they normally do, with defensemen joining the rush and creating the offense,” Johnson said.
However, it was Brianna Decker that got the lead back for Wisconsin at 5:38 of the third period, racing in and finding the inside of the post along the ice on the stick side.
Jen Schoullis tipped in a Schleper shot five minutes later to knot the score at 2-2. Amanda Kessel had assists on all three Gophers goals.
Rigsby finished with 38 saves for the game, while Räty had 34.
“It’s a tie, but it’s a shootout loss, and it feels like a loss, so nobody is happy about the result,” Frost said. “I’m certainly, from a coaching standpoint, very pleased with the effort and execution of our kids and just the way they battled here tonight.”
The teams conclude their season series with a 4:07 game on Saturday.