Wisconsin blanks Gophers in NCAA national championship

The Gophers stunned No. 1 New Hampshire to get to the championship game.

by Zach Eisendrath

It’s hard to beat a hot goalie.

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team’s bid for a third-straight NCAA championship came to a screeching halt Sunday afternoon at Mariucci Arena thanks in large part to Wisconsin freshman goalie Jessie Vetter.

In their sixth meeting of the season, the Gophers lost to border rival Wisconsin 3-0 in the NCAA championship game. Fourth-seeded Minnesota stunned top-seed New Hampshire 5-4 Friday night to advance to the title game.

“I’m really proud of my team,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “We came a long way. I think it was a good year. Too bad we couldn’t find a way to put the puck in the net. But just to get to that championship game was huge for us.”

The Badgers had won four of the previous five meetings between the two Western Collegiate Hockey Association rivals – including the WCHA tournament championship game – and overpowered the Gophers once again in front of their announced hometown crowd of 4,701, many of which sported Badger red and white.

“We were the fourth seed coming in; we beat the number one team,” Halldorson said. “If we would have beaten the number two team, I think that would have been just short of a miracle.”

With the two teams playing scoreless hockey midway through the first period, sophomore forward Jinelle Zaugg put Wisconsin on the board first when she converted on the Badgers first power play opportunity of the game.

Just 30 seconds later, freshman goalie Brittony Chartier gave up an even-strength goal to senior Grace Hutchins, putting the Gophers behind 2-0 heading into intermission.

After Minnesota came out of the locker room with an abundance of energy in the second stanza, Zaugg struck again for the Badgers, scoring her second power-play goal of the day at 9:08.

Halldorson said that goal “might have been the dagger.”

Halldorson had said all season that a hot goalie can carry a team. Vetter was just that this postseason, shutting out Mercyhurst and St. Lawrence and deflecting away 32 Minnesota shot attempts on the way to being named tournament most valuable player.

Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson now has a national championship as a coach and player on his resume.

“Like I tell my players, the pizza really does taste great after a win,” Johnson said.

Still, after losing three Olympians and by many people’s estimation, not even expected to make it back to the Frozen Four, the Gophers have a lot to be satisfied with.

“Obviously we’re unsatisfied,” Gophers forward Bobbi Ross said. “You don’t lose a game and sit there and be happy with yourself. Once we get time to get over this loss, I think, looking back on this season as a whole, there is a whole lot to be proud of.”

On Friday night, behind Ross’s four goal heroics, the Gophers shocked women’s college hockey when they upended the top-ranked Wildcats – snapping their 29-game unbeaten and 17-game winning streak.

“I am still smiling from that game because it was just a tremendous college hockey game,” Halldorson said at Friday’s post-game press conference. “The University of New Hampshire is a great opponent and they battled and I am proud of our players because we got a lead and we lost it, we were behind and came back. It was very emotional, but the bottom line is we found a way to win.”

After relinquishing an early two goal lead and then seeing the Wildcats score three unanswered goals, Ross became the first Gopher ever to score via penalty shot – giving Minnesota momentum they wouldn’t relinquish.

With the score tied at four, Ross scored the game winning goal with 1:51 remaining in the game.

New Hampshire coach Brian McCloskey said he was impressed with the way the two-time defending national champions came to play.

“I said to my team after this that if you want to dethrone a champion in their home town, they’re going to go down hard,” McCloskey said. “Hats off to Minnesota. They played great.”