WCHA Semifinal: Wisconsin 4, Minnesota Duluth 1

 (Tim Brule)
Wisconsin’s Caitlin Schneider scored in the second period to give the Badgers a 3-1 lead. (Photo: Nicole Haase)

MINNEAPOLIS – The Wisconsin women’s hockey team earned their sixth-straight trip to the WCHA tournament championship game with a 4-1 win over Minnesota Duluth on Saturday afternoon.

After playing two close games in Duluth to close out the regular season where the Bulldogs scored first, the Badgers came out aggressively in the first period and drew a penalty just 20 seconds into the game. WCHA Player of the Year Abby Roque made sure the opportunity didn’t go to waste, one-timing a pass in the slot from Mekenzie Steffer to give Wisconsin the 1-0 lead before a minute had passed.

Sydney Brodt, who said she likes to look for opportunities to get behind the defense, found an chance a few minutes later as the Badgers were aggressive on the forecheck and she was left all alone on the blue line.  Lizi Norton won the puck and fed Brodt, who went in alone on Wisconsin goalie Kristin Campbell, beating her five hole to make it 1-1 with less than five minutes off the clock.

Daryl Watts, the WCHA scoring champion, put the Badgers up just before the period break on a play that looked like it might be broken. Sophie Shirley lost an edge as she brought the puck in the zone, but Brette Pettet was able to pick it up and carry it towards Rooney. UMD’s Ashton Bell laid out to try to prevent a shot, but Pettet waited for a lane and passed it between the goal post and Bell’s prone form to find Watts crashing. Watts stopped the puck with her skate and then was able to tip it in to give Wisconsin a 2-1 lead.

“It was a tough first period, but I thought we responded well and picked up some serious momentum in the second,” said UMD coach Maura Crowell.

Wisconsin’s Mark Johnson agreed with that assessment.

“I liked the way we played the first period. You’re going to get pushback. They’re playing for their lives. At some point you’re going to get a push back and that came within the first two shifts of the second period. They had a good second period, we did not,” he said.

After managing just five shots on goal in the first, Minnesota Duluth out-shot the Badgers 30-15 over the final two periods. But despite the onslaught, the Bulldogs were not able to find the back of the net. The Badger defense did a good job of taking away the middle of the ice, forcing UMD outside and looking for any lane to get pucks to the net.

Despite giving up a goal on the first shot she faced, Campbell was able to put it behind her and put on a performance Crowell said was the best she’d seen from the Badger goaltender all season.

“Obviously it’s not ideal when the first shot goes in, but you just have to flush it, put it behind you. The most important shot is the next one and that’s the mentality I took the whole game” she said.

Though the Bulldogs had the better period, it was Wisconsin that was able to capitalize, as Caitlin Schneider took a shot from the left circle that beat UMD goalie Maddie Rooney in the far top corner.

“Her confidence has grown even since (winter break). She does well in this rink. That was a big goal for us …in a period where we didn’t play overly well,” said Johnson. “She’s scored a bunch of big goals for us in a lot of big games.”

Sophie Shirley scored an empty-net goal in the third to secure the 4-1 win for the Badgers.

Crowell said she didn’t feel like her team was frustrated by pucks not going in or discouraged by the Badger goal in the second. She was proud of how her team played and said it felt like they were close to chipping away at the lead many times throughout the game.

“I think we were encouraged by the way we were able to play our game. Once we start doing that, we start believing in ourselves. (We were) not focusing too much on the scoreboard,” Crowell said. “I thought their frustration was fairly low considering the magnitude of the situation we were in. I think we got the best out of all of our players. Everybody brought it, everybody was ready to go. We just were never able to convert.”

Wisconsin will face the winner of the second semi-final game between Minnesota and Ohio State. The WCHA championship game is Sunday at 2:07 PM central and will be televised on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin.