Gophers Survive Scare; Advance to Championship

HAMDEN, Conn. – The term March Madness is often reserved for basketball, but madness was the name of the game, as the #3 Wisconsin Badgers fell to the #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers 5 to 3 in the opening game of the Women’s Frozen Four at the High Point Solutions Arena on the campus of Quinnipiac University.

It was the fifth time the two WCHA (and Big 10) rivals clashed. It was the fifth time Minnesota won. But it wasn’t without a bit of a scare.

“That was unbelievable,” Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said. “I hope everybody enjoyed the game. If you didn’t I don’t know what needs to happen.”

The Gophers looked flat from the start, and elected to play a more physical game from the opening faceoff. Meanwhile, the Badgers peppered the nation’s number one team with 16 shots, and were rewarded with the games opening goal 18:38 into the first period, as Brittany Ammerman scored her team leading 23rd goal of the year. Ammerman came in on the right side and shot it right through the five-hole of goalie Amanda Leveille.

Minnesota went into the break down 1-0.

“I think we should’ve been up 3-0,” Badgers coach Mark Johnson said.

Their reaction was, in typical Gopher fashion, immediate. The Golden Gophers came out flying in the second and made an early statement as just 33 ticks into the stanza, as Kelly Tarry tapped home a rebound off an initial shot by Dani Cameranesi that hit the post. It was the senior’s 16th goal of the year. Bethany Brausen also assisted on the goal that tied the game at 1 goal apiece.

On that play, Courtney Burke was called for body checking, leading Minnesota to a powerplay. This lead to a game shifting goal, as Maryanne Menefee scored gher 17th of the year on the powerplay to give the Gophers their first lead of the night at 2-1, 2:12 into the period. Tarry attempted a pass that was tipped on goal, and the ensuing save went to the left, where Menefee was ready to put it home.

The tied had turned, but as the Gophers couldn’t find the back of the net (they had 10 chances and converted on two in the period), the Badgers regained their confidence. Wisconsin had turned sloppy, but managed to get the equalizer at the 16:20 mark. Katy Josephs got a great feed from Katrina Zgraja in the defensive end and took it up the right side from blue line to blue line and into the right circle, where she slid it past Leveille to make it 2-2.

And the Badgers were not done. Off an Minnesota icing with 31 seconds left, Karley Sylvester ripped home a one timer from the center point, putting Wisconsin ahead 3-2 going into the break.

“Usually when we play Wisconsin, it’s a race to three,” Frost said. “[We thought] we might have let one slip away.”

That was all the Badger scoring. Tonight, it proved to not be enough.

The Gophers settled in and were confident, scoring the game’s final three goals. Give credit to Alex Rigsby, who did not give up and proved why she was the nation’s best goaltender in 2013-14. She made 34 saves on 37 shots, and kept the Badgers in it all the way through, but 5:37 into the third, Hannah Brandt tied the game with her 23rd goal of the year. Milica McMillen set her up with a great pass from right to left, and Brandt sent the puck through the five-hole of Rigsby to tie the game on the powerplay.

Then, at 8:06, Rachael Bona scored the eventual game-winner on a couple of great moves. First she came in on the left side and made an amazing toe drag to the right of her defender, cutting in front of Rigsby. Instead of going backhand, she faked and went back forehand right in front of the center of the goal mouth and got it over Rigsby’s stick to make it 4-3.

“Normally when I do that I go backhand,” Bona said. “I pulled it to my forehand and it went in. I think she was sliding with me right so I went left.”

The Gophers had to wait about 10 minutes, but were rewarded with an insurance goal in the waning minutes. Baylee Gillanders received a drop pass from Brandt and let go a slap shot so hard she fell to the ice to put the game on ice with her 5th goal of the year at 17:32.

“I just kind of left it there for her and she had an amazing shot,” Brandt said.

The Badgers pulled their goalie but couldn’t put it away and end up heading back to Madison empty handed, going 0-5 against the Gophers this year.

“I’m very proud of how our team played,” Johnson said. “In this setting, it wasn’t good enough.”

Minnesota, meanwhile, will take on the Clarkson Golden Knights on Sunday at 3:00 in the National final as they look for their third consecutive championship.

“I didn’t know I was get one,” Bona said. “On Sunday I’ll be playing for my third in three years…it’s unbelievable.”

“Most teams don’t get a chance to play in one National Championship Game,” Brandt said.

NOTES:

  • Minnesota was 0-1-1 when trailing going into the third period. Their lone loss came to North Dakota and the tie was against Ohio State (Minnesota lost in a shootout)
  • Wisconsin’s Rigsby finishes her NCAA career with an even 100 wins.
  • It was the third time Minnesota had beaten Wisconsin by 2 goals or less this season

RAW Minnesota: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Hr2DHsUW2U

RAW Wisconsin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUm2SqkuKMc

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