Gophers split final series, earn share of WCHA title

With a win and a loss against Wisconsin, No. 2 Minnesota splits the conference championship with Minnesota-Duluth.

Gophers split final series, earn share of WCHA title

John Hageman

This weekendâÄôs Minnesota womenâÄôs hockey series had all the makings of a classic, and in no way did it disappoint. The No. 2 Gophers (22-7-5, 18-6-4 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) entered the series against No. 8 Wisconsin with a two point lead over No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth in the conference standings and zero wins in their last two weekends. Besides being a bitter rival, Wisconsin (18-13-3, 15-12-1) has always had the GophersâÄô number, and was the only team in the WCHA that Minnesota did not beat this season. FridayâÄôs game began with the Gophers on the board early with a goal from sophomore Sarah Erickson just 32 seconds into the game. The Gophers added to the lead with a power-play goal from freshman Sam Downey with just less than three minutes left in the first period. The Badgers would respond with a power-play goal of their own from Brooke Ammerman at 19:17 in the first. WisconsinâÄôs Jasmine Giles provided two goals for the Badgers in the second to take a 3-2 lead into the final period. The Gophers gave Wisconsin plenty of scoring opportunities in the second period with sloppy play. âÄúI thought we came out quick, [in] the first ten minutes,âÄù Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said. âÄúIn my opinion, we kind of took the next 30 minutes off.âÄù With a Minnesota-Duluth victory earlier in the day, Minnesota would enter the final day of the regular season tied with the Bulldogs unless the Gophers found a way to win. After battling for most of the final period and outshooting Wisconsin 13-5 down the stretch , the Gophers still could not find a way to get the puck in the net. Minnesota finally took a timeout with 1:01 remaining , and pulled goaltender Alyssa Grogan as soon as the puck left their zone. All hope seemed lost, until leading scorer Emily West slapped in a goal from just inside the blue line with about 17 seconds remaining . The game would go to overtime with Minnesota starting out strong, but Wisconsin ultimately put the Gophers away with a goal at 4:03 in the extra period. âÄúWeâÄôre not going to beat a team like Wisconsin or anybody else if we donâÄôt play a good 60 minutes of hockey, and for some reason we didnâÄôt do that tonight,âÄù Frost said. âÄúAnd eventually this team will learn, and if they donâÄôt then weâÄôll be feeling like this all summer.âÄù Apparently, the Gophers have a quick learning curve, and came back from the heartbreaking defeat with inspired play Saturday night. Giles scored her third goal of the series early when she put the Badgers up at 1:24 in the first . Wisconsin had the opportunity to add to the lead when Gophers freshman Mira Jalosuo roughed up Ammerman on a fast break, giving her a penalty shot opportunity. Grogan stood tall, however, and provided the big save. âÄúTo go down 2-0 that early would have been a huge blow for us, confidence-wise,âÄù Grogan said. âÄúI knew it would kind of help our team get some momentum going.âÄù It did just that in the form of a power-play goal from sophomore Anne Schleper at 12:15 in the first. But WisconsinâÄôs Mallory Deluce gave her team a 2-1 lead with a goal late in the first period . The two teams kept the status quo for the entire second period, and the Gophers once again found themselves down a goal going into the final act. Not only that, but Minnesota-Duluth completed the sweep of Bemidji State earlier in the day, making SaturdayâÄôs game a do-or-die scenario for the Gophers if they wanted a share of the WCHA crown. Finally, with about five minutes until a disappointing end of the season for the Gophers, sophomore Kelly Seeler muscled in the puck in the middle of a scrum to tie the game up at 2-2. Then, with time running out for the Gophers, freshman Becky Kortum made a beautiful pass to senior Chelsey Jones in front of the net, which she slapped in with just 1:40 left in the game. Minnesota would hold on to win 3-2, and claim a share of the WCHA title with Minnesota-Duluth. âÄúItâÄôs definitely a big moment and a big win,âÄù Jones said. âÄúActually beating Wisconsin was probably the best part of that goal right there.âÄù Because Minnesota-Duluth holds the tie-breaker over the Gophers, they will get the No. 1 seed in the WCHA playoffs, but Frost said earning the title was always the first of his teamâÄôs goals. âÄúIt doesnâÄôt matter, weâÄôre still going to be hanging a banner, and weâÄôre still WCHA champions,âÄù he said. The Gophers will look to carry this late-season momentum into the first round of the playoffs against Minnesota-State, with the first game of the best-of-three series beginning at 7 p.m. Friday at Ridder Arena.