MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Entering Saturday’s game with Wisconsin, Minnesota’s most recent victory over the Badgers was a 7-5 affair 14 months ago.
Offense proved tougher to come by in the teams’ final regular season meeting of 2011-12, a 1-0 win for the Gophers (18-3-1, 12-3-1-0 WCHA) on Saturday night.
“What a weekend of hockey, to be honest,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Two great teams going at it, and for us, just the battle and compete level from the very first shift tonight. I was just really proud of the players.”
Noora Räty denied all 32 shots she faced in recording the shutout, the 21st of her career and one shy of the Minnesota team record.
“Before I came to the rink, I told my dad – he is actually here and my boyfriend is here right now – I feel good and I feel like today is going to be a good day,” the Espoo, Finland native said. “And it was.”
“Noora was unbelievable, like she always is, but to keep Wisconsin off the board all game there and to shut them out was pretty special as well,” Frost said.
After playing from behind for much of Friday’s game, Minnesota struck early in the rematch.
Defenseman Kelly Seeler’s low drive from the left point found its way through traffic and into the goal 6:31 into the game. Rachael Bona and Kelly Terry had the assists on Seeler’s first goal of her senior season.
“It was pretty special,” Seeler said. “You always want to come out with a win against Wisconsin and our whole team was rooting for that. Getting shots to the net, as many as we could, was exactly what we needed.”
Battling an assortment of injuries that knocked her out of Friday night’s contest, Seeler was almost scratched for the game.
“She was a game-time decision,” Frost said. “She said she felt good in warmups, so we used her when we needed her, and I thought she performed really well.”
Minnesota had the better of the play through the first 20 minutes, outshooting Wisconsin (19-2-1, 13-2-1-1 WCHA) by a 14-4 margin.
“They played hard that first period and [Wisconsin goalie] Alex [Rigsby] gave us an opportunity,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said.
The Gophers had several opportunities to increase the lead, but could not cash in, including 95 seconds with a two-skater advantage to end the first and start the second period.
“I thought what really turned things around as far as giving us a chance was killing a 5-on-3 to start the second period,” Johnson said. “All of a sudden, now we’re in the game, even though we hadn’t played well to that point.”
During the second half of the middle frame, Bona hit a pipe and Jen Schoullis got the puck by Rigsby, but it didn’t cross the line upon review.
The Badgers had prime chances as well, but they couldn’t solve Räty before time expired.
“It’s a game we can take some things away from, learn from, and become better because of it,” Johnson said.
Rigsby finished with 41 stops in suffering just the second defeat of her sophomore season.
“It stinks to lose,” Wisconsin captain Hilary Knight said. “I hate losing; everybody does. But as we’ve learned the last couple of years, it doesn’t really matter where you’re ranked, as long as you’re ready for the tournament. At the end of the day, losing does stink, but we have to learn from it and really grow.”
The Badgers don’t have much time to dwell on the defeat, because they face a tough trip to Grand Forks to face a hungry North Dakota team next weekend.
“We had two good games in Madison early in the season to start the run of games we had in October,” Johnson said. “They’re certainly going to be watching films and watching our games from this weekend and they’ll certainly be ready to play us Saturday afternoon. It should be another high-paced, intense series.”
Wisconsin wants to be the team getting off to the quick start, as they were on Friday, although not on Saturday.
“I think the biggest thing is taking this game and pushing it away and learning what we need to learn, but really coming with a competitive edge and starting in the first period next game,” Knight said.
Coupled with a 3-2 win in Madison back in October, this is the first time that Minnesota has two victories over Wisconsin in the same season since its last NCAA championship team in 2004-05.
“This is huge for us, because now we believe that we can beat the No. 1 team in the country,” Räty said.
Minnesota also has a tough road series coming up, facing Minnesota-Duluth next Friday and Saturday night.
“I think that it’s good we’re playing Duluth next weekend,” Frost said. “Our players know that we can’t go up there and expect to give an average effort to get the job done.”