Women’s hockey splits with streaking Badgers

by Brett Angel

MMIDDLETON, Wis. – minnesota’s women’s hockey team traveled to Wisconsin last Thursday with a chance to solidify its spot as one of the top teams in the country heading into the postseason. By Saturday night, however, the third-ranked Gophers found themselves fighting for their playoff lives.

Minnesota (26-5-1, 19-4-1 WCHA) lost just its fifth game of the season 2-1 to the No. 6 Badgers on Friday night at the Capitol Ice Arena before bouncing back with a 2-0 victory Saturday.

Friday’s loss marked the first time this season the Gophers were defeated by a conference opponent other than No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth.

Minnesota struggled all weekend to create scoring opportunities against a tough Wisconsin defense that held the Gophers to just 17 shots on goal Saturday and a total of 39 in the series.

“We knew it would be low-scoring and that we’d have to battle hard to generate offense,” Minnesota head coach Laura Halldorson said.

But the Gophers won Saturday by taking advantage of the few opportunities they did get.

Junior forward La Toya Clarke netted both goals for Minnesota and missed a hat trick by inches when a third attempt deflected off the pipe late in the third period. Winny Brodt assisted on both scores.

“We were going to the net with a purpose,” Clarke said. “That was the difference.”

Clarke gave Minnesota its first lead of the weekend when she scored with 47 seconds left in Saturday’s opening period.

“The timing of that goal was important,” Halldorson said. “There were times in that first period when we were being outplayed and bottled up and to come away with a one-goal lead was huge.”

Clarke added a power-play goal midway through the second period.

Minnesota goaltender Jody Horak, who lost for just the sixth time in 43 career decisions Friday, earned her fifth shutout of the year by stopping all 28 shots she faced.

For Wisconsin (21-7-5, 14-6-4), the loss snapped a nine-game winning streak. The run was the longest in team history and had been the longest current streak in the nation.

“We played better (Saturday) than we did (Friday),” Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson said. “But Horak was the difference in the game.”

The split with Wisconsin was the third time since the holiday break Minnesota has won a series finale after losing the first game of the weekend.

The Gophers pulled off similar comebacks Jan. 18 against New Hampshire (after losing to Dartmouth) and again two weeks ago against Minnesota-Duluth.

“It shows that we can make some good adjustments and respond,” Halldorson said. “But for the next two weekends we have to win the first game, so we have to find a way to get it done right away.”

Minnesota will get its first chance Friday in the semifinals of the WCHA tournament where it will play Wisconsin for the third time in a row.

“It’s obviously the most important game of the season,” Johnson said. “It’s 1-1, now we’ve got the rubber match.”

Brett Angel covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]