Top-ranked Gophers earn sweep over No. 6 Badgers

The weekend was full of unwanted drama for Minnesota’s top-ranked women’s hockey team.

Saturday afternoon, last season’s second-leading scorer, sophomore Krissy Wendell, was given a game misconduct penalty in the first period. On Sunday, senior co-captain Kelsey Bills injured her right leg in the first period and did not return. But despite the turbulent times, the Gophers still skated off with a series sweep against the sixth-ranked Badgers.

“I was proud of the effort and the way we battled in both games,” coach Laura Halldorson said.

On Sunday, the Gophers offense struggled at times, but held Wisconsin scoreless for 57:41, before Sara Bauer added a late goal for the Badgers as Minnesota won 3-1.

The Gophers took 13 shots in the opening period to test Wisconsin freshman Christine Dufour, but six of those shots were outside the circles. Wisconsin played Minnesota tough, but less than two minutes after Bills was injured, the Gophers got on the board.

At 16:18 in the opening period, a Chelsey Brodt shot from the blue line was tipped in by a Wisconsin defender to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.

In the second period, Wendell made her return to the ice a successful one. The sophomore forward lit the lamp at 14:42 of the period. Natalie Darwitz fed Kelly Stephens low and Stephens found Wendell alone on the doorstep.

“The game didn’t have a whole lot of flow going to it,” Wendell said. “So it was nice to get some flow a little bit on the power play.”

La Toya Clarke received a clearing pass from Darwitz, and added an empty-net goal at the end of the third period to close out the scoring.

With two assists Sunday, Darwitz increased her consecutive game-scoring streak to 19 games.

Jody Horak stopped 25 shots on Sunday and never let the Badgers get started offensively.

“Yesterday I thought we won pretty, and today we won ugly,” Halldorson said. “It says a lot for us to do both of these things.”

In their debut game at the Kohl Center on Saturday afternoon, the Gophers relied on junior goalie Jody Horak and power play opportunities to blank the Badgers 3-0.

Minnesota struggled to find its offensive rhythm during the first period.

The Gophers’ cause was hampered 16:01 into the opening stanza when Wendell was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. Minnesota was forced to shuffle lines and make personnel adjustments, but the team handled the loss of Wendell well.

“I don’t think we ever panicked when she left,” Halldorson said. “I was proud of the effort of the rest of the team.”

In the second period, the Gophers converted on all three of their power play opportunities. Darwitz put home a garbage goal at 5:39 in the second and lit the lamp at 15:01 on a wrist shot from between the circles, off a centering pass from Lyndsay Wall. Darwitz returned the favor 75 seconds later, dropping the puck to Wall at the blue line, who went top shelf with a one-timer for her first collegiate goal.

Three power play goals proved to be more than enough cushion for the Gophers. Horak stopped 27 shots to earn her second straight shutout.

“She was awesome today,” Halldorson said. “I think she was the difference maker. She deserved that shutout.”

Minnesota was out-shot in both games of the series. The Gophers scored four of their six goals with a skater advantage. Minnesota remains perfect short-handed, having successfully killed off all 18 penalties against them.

The Gophers head back to Minneapolis after their first regular-season road trip full of adversity. But Halldorson does not mind at all.

“To be able to come out this weekend with two wins against a very good team, I think that says a lot for the character and the talent of our players,” Halldorson said.