Badgers nip Minnesota again to close out rock-solid season

Wisconsin had the Gophers’ number all year and finished them off last weekend.

Coming into Saturday, Wisconsin was the Achilles’ heel of the Minnesota women’s hockey team, but the Gophers had one last chance to vanquish the Badgers – one last chance when it really counted.

And it looked as though they might, but, in the end, it just wasn’t to be.

Minnesota once again fell to Wisconsin in heartbreaking fashion; a 3-2 overtime loss in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals Saturday night at Ridder Arena.

Considering how competitive every game between Minnesota and Wisconsin has been this year, it’s probably fitting that the final showdown between the teams couldn’t be decided in regulation.

But the extra time only delayed an outcome the Gophers have become all too familiar with against the Badgers.

Saturday’s game was the sixth time this season the teams met and Wisconsin’s fourth win over Minnesota this year. The Gophers’ lone victory came in Madison over four months ago.

An explanation as to why the Badgers dominated this match-up is hard to formulate.

Minnesota won three-of-four this year against Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season and tournament champion Minnesota-Duluth, while Wisconsin has dropped four-of-five to the Bulldogs.

In addition, the Badgers are a very young team.

“The first couple of months we needed to work with our freshmen,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said. “But we have become a better team since December.”

Indeed, the Badgers have been as hot as any team in the country during the late part of the season. They are an impressive 16-2-1 in 2008.

And for some reason, Wisconsin found ways to win against the Gophers time after time, even though the majority of the games came down to the wire.

Four of the six games the teams played were decided by a goal or less; two of them went into overtime.

For Minnesota, it was an abrupt end to an otherwise brilliant season; a season which included a 21-game unbeaten streak, a 17-game conference win streak and a second place regular season finish in the WCHA.

“This was one heck of a season,” coach Brad Frost said. “It was a hard way to lose tonight, but this year was one to be proud of. Last fall, our seniors set the tone, and carried it throughout the season. They are a truly special group of players. I’m so proud of our kids, I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

Truly, Minnesota lacked nothing in terms of effort and passion during its final game, but the Badgers were getting the always-important fortunate bounces.

Wisconsin’s first goal deflected past freshman keeper Jenny Lura off the back of winger Kelly Nash, and the Badgers’ winning goal in overtime appeared to slide over the line when Lura fell back on the puck during a scramble in front of the net.

Still, Lura played nothing like a freshman and her 23 saves kept the Gophers in the game.

“Jenny gave us a chance to win tonight,” Frost said.

And it did look like Minnesota was heading to victory after freshman forward Emily West found the five-hole on Wisconsin keeper Jessie Vetter as time expired in the second period.

But as usual, the Badgers responded promptly, evening the score just 14 seconds into the third.

From there, the game remained a stalemate until a minute and a half into overtime when Wisconsin ended the Gophers’ season early, for the second straight year.

And although things didn’t turn out as planned for Minnesota, senior forward Bobbi Ross said the team had an exhilarating ride.

“Later, we’ll be able to look back at this game and see what a special thing we were a part of,” she said. “We went out on one heck of a hockey game.”