HAMDEN, Conn. — Minnesota withstood an upset-minded Wisconsin squad, scoring three unanswered goals in the third period to defeat the Badgers 5-3 in the first semifinal of the women’s Frozen Four.
The story of the game wasn’t so much the Gophers’ comeback, but how Wisconsin seemed poised to end their rivals’ NCAA reign.
“That was unbelievable,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “I hope everybody enjoyed the game. They were all over us in the first. Our team believed they would get the job done. I’m ecstatic to be heading to the finals.”
“Obviously, disappointed,” said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson. “We played well. It just wasn’t well enough. There were moments in the game you’ll like to have back. Congratulations to Minnesota. They deserved it.”
Wisconsin came out to play, not at all intimidated by the Gophers’ domination of the sport over the past two years. The Badgers had an extra jump in their step, beating Minnesota to loose pucks, finding spaces on the ice and taking advantage of them.
Minnesota goaltender Amanda Leveille was the only thing keeping this game from getting out of hand early on. In fact, she kept the Badgers off the scoreboard through the first 18:38.
Brittany Ammerman finally broke the ice skating down the right side, putting a shot though the five-hole. It came unassisted.
Sarah Nurse missed two breakaways in the first period. The first, with a defenseman almost draping her, Leveille stayed with her on every move and stopped the backhander. The second, a clean run, Nurse decided to fire it quickly, but the puck missed the net by inches.
“We knew we weren’t playing very well,” Minnesota’s Hannah Brandt said.
The Minnesota coaches put a fire under their team as they came out of the second period flying. One penalty allowed the Gophers to score twice, taking the lead.
On the delayed call just 33 seconds in, Kelly Terry pounced on a rebound which came off the post and buried it near side.
On the actual penalty, another rebound, this time off the goalie, Alex Rigsby, was put in by MaryAnne Menefee for the 2-1 lead.
However, once again, Wisconsin was not dismayed nor intimidated. The Badgers slowly regained their confidence and game plan.
“They collapsed around the net,” Frost said. “They were really aggressive on their forecheck against us more than ever before.”
Wisconsin finally lit the lamp late in the period, this time twice.
Katy Josephs came down the right side on an innocent looking rush, shooting for the far side. Leveille appeared to play the angle wrong as it sailed past her at 16:20.
Wisconsin took a one-goal lead once again with 31.2 seconds remaining in the second stanza when Karley Sylvester rifled a one-timer from the right circle off the face off.
“It was a great goal,” Sylvester said. “The pass from [Madison] Packer was perfect. It was a great time in the game at the end of the second.”
“We were happy with our offensive production this afternoon,” added Ammerman.
“It’s usually a race to three,” Frost said. “And when they won that race, I was worried.”
Yet again, Minnesota came out strong after an intermission. This time it took them 5:37 to tie the game on the power play.
Brandt, a Patty Kazmaier finalist, dished off a pass to Milica McMillen, who returned it, allowing Brandt to one-time it past Rigsby.
Less than three minutes later, Rachel Bona wowed the crowd with a toe-drag around a defender and then some fancy stick handling to beat Rigsby.
“Normally, when I do that, I go to my backhand,” Bona said. “I figured Rigsby would be expecting that, so I tried something different.”
“Rachel, in particular, doesn’t get all the attention she deserves,” Frost said.
With the 4-3 deficit, Wisconsin was back to doing what it did best and it almost paid off. The Badgers applied a lot of pressure, but Leveille met the challenge each time.
Leveille ended up with 34 saves.
Before Wisconsin had an opportunity to pull Rigsby, Minnesota got the insurance tally. Baylee Gillanders took a pass from Brandt at the left circle and blasted a shot past Rigsby.
“Baylee was doing a great job,” Brandt said.
Wisconsin ends their season at 28-8-2.
Johnson said of the tough loss, “It wasn’t due to a lack of effort.”
“Beating them five times in a season is extremely hard,” Frost said.
Minnesota (38-1-1) plays for another national championship tomorrow against the winner of the Clarkson-Mercyhurst semifinal.
“It’s going to be a real tough game,” Frost said.