Little things made a big difference in Wisconsin’s 3-1 win over Minnesota-Duluth, none more so than on Jasmine Giles’ goal at 18:39 of the second period to put the Badgers (30-2-5, 21-2-5 WCHA) ahead 2-1, a lead they would not relinquish.
Giles received the puck from Brooke Ammerman and got off a bad-angle shot that found its way barely through an opening in Johanna Ellison, just inside the far post, and barely trickled over the goal line.
“The goalie was sliding over, so I just tried to shoot it back the opposite way that she was coming,” Giles said. “Somebody started yelling before it even went in, so I just turned around and celebrated my head off.”
“It went in between my glove and my leg pad,” Ellison said. “I had a piece of it, and it just kind of snuck through. It was a good shot.”
That turned out to be the only even-strength goal of the game. Minnesota-Duluth (25-8-4, 18-6-4 WCHA) went one-of-five with the man advantage, while Wisconsin converted twice in four tries.
Giles and her teammates observed in the locker room that both teams were playing very defensively.
“Most of both teams’ opportunities came off the power play,” she said. “It was nice to get one in on even strength.”
There wasn’t a lot of even strength action to be seen in that decisive middle period.
“We did a good job in the second period of killing off four straight penalties, but the kids battled, and we came out of that period up 2-1, which I think was a real positive,” coach Mark Johnson said.
Earlier, Wisconsin drew even when Alycia Matthews’ shot from the point hit a Bulldogs’ defender’s stick and avoided Ellison.
“We work on that; Brooke Ammerman is usually there,” Matthews said. “I thought that was her; I thought she tipped it in.”
UMD coach Shannon Miller was able to laugh at the unkind bounce.
“I told Heidi Pelttari I did that trick too when I was younger; I scored on my own team,” Miller said.
The sudden change in direction left Ellison no time to react.
“It kind of happened real fast,” she said. “It was kind of just hope it hit me.”
Pernilla Winberg had struck first, redirecting Haley Irwin’s shot around Jessie Vetter.
The Bulldogs controlled much of the second period, enjoying a 16-9 advantage in shots, but Vetter permitted only the one tally. Holding the lead in the third period, Wisconsin’s vaunted defense clamped down and held UMD to only five shots on goal.
“The ‘D’ played awesome,” Vetter said. “They kept the shots outside. I just tried to control my rebounds the best as I could. We played really well defensively as a team today.”
Meghan Duggan scored a vital insurance goal with less than three minutes remaining with helpers from Hilary Knight and Angie Keseley.
The Badgers advance to face Minnesota in Sunday’s WCHA championship.
“We’ll be ready to play tomorrow,” Johnson said. “There’s no excuses, there’s no alibis.
“Obviously, Minnesota has got some kids that can get the puck in the net. They like to open it up, but I think what you saw today, you’ll probably see tomorrow.”
The Bulldogs look ahead to the NCAA quarterfinals.
“It gives me a lot of confidence going into next weekend’s game, the quarterfinal game, and hopefully going off to Boston that we can compete with the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked in the country and pretty much walk away even,” Miller said.
She speculated about where the selection committee might choose to place her team.
“We were tied with Mercyhurst in the PairWise coming into this weekend, but our strength of schedule is quadruple what their [schedule] is; it’s not even close.”
“I think if they’re going to call it a Frozen Four, they want the best teams there and you shouldn’t worry about if someone’s from the WCHA or where they’re from. You rank the people where they belong, and we belong at number three right now. There’s no doubt about it, and we should have home ice.”