Gophers sent packing after loss to Badgers

It was one and done for Minnesota after suffering a 4-3 loss Friday in Duluth.

Austin Cumblad

;DULUTH – The clock read 0:00.1, the lamp was lit, and the crowd thought the Minnesota women’s hockey team had just sent the game into overtime.

But it wasn’t to be.

up next

NCAA quarterfinals
what: Women’s hockey
when: time TBA, Friday
where: Indianapolis

Senior forward Whitney Graft had gloved the puck into the net, the goal was disallowed and the Gophers fell 4-3 to Wisconsin on Saturday in the semifinals of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Face-Off.

With the defeat, Minnesota (2-1-0 postseason) lost control of its NCAA tournament destiny, leaving the door open to the Badgers and St. Lawrence University to overtake the Gophers for the final home-ice spot in regional play next weekend.

Both Wisconsin (3-1-0 postseason) and St. Lawrence lost in the finals of their respective conference tournaments, however, and Minnesota stayed ahead of both teams in the PairWise Rankings, which are used to determine seeds in the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA Hockey Committee, however, which usually tries to avoid intra-conference matchups in NCAA regional games, threw precedent out the door by matching up the Gophers and the Badgers again next Saturday.

Though Minnesota has been generally brilliant this season at Ridder Arena, the Gophers have yet to beat Wisconsin in Minneapolis.

Furthermore, the loss left Minnesota with a 1-3-1 record against the Badgers this year and kept the Gophers out of the finals of the WCHA tournament for the first time in seven seasons.

But at the same time, it should be remembered that Wisconsin is an extremely skilled team.

Coming off a near-perfect 36-1-4 season last year that included a second-straight national championship, it may seem to some that the Badgers are having a down year with eight losses thus far.

But after struggling in the first half of the season, Wisconsin played as well as any team since the New Year and has competed with and beat the nation’s best.

“At the beginning of the year we had a little trouble trying to find our ground and make a statement,” Badgers junior forward Erika Lawler said. “But I think now that we’ve had a whole year under our belt and great team chemistry we’re all just coming together at the right time.”

But Minnesota has come together in the second half as well, and despite Saturday’s heartbreaking loss, there were plenty of positive signs to take away from the game.

Late last week, senior forward Bobbi Ross said the Gophers would need to “solve (Wisconsin goalie) Jessie Vetter” to have a chance against the Badgers’ stout defense.

Bagging three goals on a keeper that held a 1.30 goals-against-average coming into the weekend certainly seems like solving – Vetter has given up three in only four other games this year, so Minnesota’s production was certainly impressive.

Perhaps more notable, however, was the fact that the Gophers climbed back from a 3-1 deficit late in the second period to even the score.

“Normally when you get down to Wisconsin by two goals it’s good night Irene,” coach Brad Frost said. “I thought our kids just really battled and battled and battled to get back to 3-3.”

And when freshman forward Jen Schoullis knotted the game up with less than 15 minutes to play, momentum seemed to be squarely with the Gophers.

Even when Minnesota received a penalty for too many men on the ice, the game seemed well in hand. After all, the Gophers hadn’t allowed a power-play goal in 289 minutes when Wisconsin went on the advantage.

But a quick shot by Badgers senior forward Jinelle Zaugg after a face-off with only 14 seconds left in the power play fooled junior goalkeeper Kim Hanlon.

The shot that found the net was only the second Wisconsin had put on target during the power play and came during only the second power play the Badgers’ had on the night, but it turned out to be the game winner.

Without a doubt, the referees let the teams play all game; only five penalties were called despite physical play throughout the game.

Still, Ross thought the game was fair throughout and appreciated the low number of calls.

“It felt like the game had a little more flow,” she said. “It’s nice that the reffing wasn’t a deciding factor in a game that was as hard fought by both teams as this game was.”