BEMIDJI, Minn. — Meghan Dufault’s unassisted goal late in the second period was all North Dakota goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie needed to lift her team over Wisconsin 1-0 and into its second consecutive WCHA championship game.
“Obviously, a fantastic game,” North Dakota coach Brian Idalski said.
UND (20-11-4, 14-10-4-2 WCHA) was playing with its season on the line, as a loss would have kept it outside the field for the NCAA tournament, and for the second straight year, it was able to best the Badgers in a league semifinal.
“We’re on life support [and] we understand that,” Idalski said. “We’re just excited to keep playing.”
Amsley-Benzie made 35 saves to earn the shutout, but she deflected much of the praise, choosing to credit her teammates. However, Idalski said that she has been a big-game goalie throughout her career and that was one of the qualities that made her attractive when UND was recruiting her.
Wisconsin (27-7-2, 21-5-2-1 WCHA) knows that this loss won’t end its campaign and coach Mark Johnson said that the loss can have a silver lining if his team learns from it.
“If you want to move on at this time of year, you’ve got to give more,” he said.
UND took a 1-0 lead at 16:46 of the second period as UW defenseman Jenny Ryan flubbed a pass just inside her own blue line and Dufault carried the puck in and buried her own rebound from her knees.
“It popped right back out onto my stick,” Dufault said.
Badgers’ senior goaltender Alex Rigsby didn’t like the way her team responded to yielding the goal.
“I think we played like we were defeated,” Rigsby said.
Johnson said he sensed that momentum had started to turn in advance of the goal when UND had several consecutive offensive-zone draws.
Earlier Michelle Karvinen got behind the defense and went in alone on Rigsby, but her shot drew iron.
“The most important thing for me is to make sure I stay focused throughout the game,” Rigsby said. “You never know when they’re going to get a break.”
Wisconsin had the better of play in the first period, as Amsley-Benzie was called upon to make several tough saves, including denying Brittany Ammerman on a breakaway just past the halfway mark of the frame. The Badgers held a 15-8 shot advantage.
North Dakota will face the winner of the Minnesota/Minnesota-Duluth semifinal on Saturday at 7:07 p.m. CST in Bemidji, while Wisconsin will await its first-round NCAA matchup.