Lead, WCHA championship foiled by late Badgers rally

Wisconsin continues to dominate the Gophers in postseason play.

Freshman Kelly Terry drives to shoot on UMD goalie Jennifer Harss Friday at Ridder Arena.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Freshman Kelly Terry drives to shoot on UMD goalie Jennifer Harss Friday at Ridder Arena.

Dane Mizutani

It was a weekend of chances for the Gophers.

It was a chance to win a WCHA tournament championship.

It was a chance to gain momentum entering the NCAA tournament.

It was a chance for them to exorcise the postseason demons that have haunted them for years and finally to beat top-ranked Wisconsin in the playoffs.

But they couldnâÄôt finish.

Wisconsin forward Kelly Nash took a centering pass at 14:11 of the overtime period Saturday and netted a goal as No. 3 Minnesota (26-9-2, 18-8-2 WCHA) watched all its chances slip away.

âÄúThere is no question Wisconsin is deserving of the No. 1 ranking, but we had them tonight and it got away from us,âÄù head coach Brad Frost said following the heartbreaking loss.

The Gophers opened up the weekend with an impressive 4-2 victory over rival Minnesota Duluth (22-8-3, 18-7-3) in the semifinal game of the WCHA Final Faceoff.

UMD got on the board 7:25 into the game with a goal from Audrey Cournoyer, but Friday night belonged to Minnesota freshman Amanda Kessel.

Kessel was named WCHA Rookie of the Year the night before and promptly proved she was deserving of the honor.

She scored her first goal of the night in response to the early UMD goal, but she was just getting started.

The Gophers took the lead in the second period with a breakaway goal by Kelly Terry and a Kessel wrist shot that went top shelf over the goaltenderâÄôs left shoulder.

Kessel completed her hat trick in the third period with a short-handed goal off a nice feed from Jen Schoullis.

Duluth couldnâÄôt respond to the Kessel outburst, scoring just once more late in the game.

âÄúI had a hat trick in exhibition, but to get one in the playoffs is pretty unbelievable,âÄù Kessel said after FridayâÄôs game.

The Gophers dominated the game, outshooting the Bulldogs 43-34.

Minnesota got out to a fast start Saturday against Wisconsin.

Sarah Erickson scored her 19th and 20th goals of the season in the first period to put Minnesota up 2-0.

Sarah Davis added a goal halfway through the second period, stretching the lead to three, and it looked as though this was the year the Gophers would finally get by Wisconsin in the playoffs.

Minnesota has had extreme trouble against Wisconsin (34-2-2, 24-2-2) in the postseason in the past, losing to them in four of the last five years.

The Gophers fell to Wisconsin 3-1 in the WCHA Final Faceoff championship game in 2007. They lost 4-3 in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals in 2008 and in the same year were defeated 3-2 in overtime of the NCAA quarterfinals. In 2009, Minnesota lost 5-3 to the Badgers in the championship game of the WCHA Final Faceoff.

This year proved to be no different.

Wisconsin battled back with two goals in 36 seconds in the second period; Brianna Decker and WCHA player of the year Meghan Duggan scored back-to-back goals, cutting the lead to 1.

The Gophers went back up by two on a Schoullis goal assisted by Kessel with less than two minutes left in the second period.

Wisconsin came back to tie the game and send it into overtime following a pair of goals by Madison Packer and Duggan late in the third.

Wisconsin dominated on all levels in overtime.

The Gophers were outshot 12-2 in the frame, and eventually the 56 total shots on net proved to be too much for Minnesota goaltender Noora Räty and the Gophers.

âÄúThis is something we can learn from and make it a point to see them in a few weeks,âÄù Erickson said. âÄúWeâÄôre going to let this one sit in for a couple of days and then get back to practice and do whatever we can âÄî whatever is necessary to win on either Friday or Saturday.âÄù

Minnesota may have another opportunity to face Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament, and Erickson said the team will be ready.

âÄúI think weâÄôll be at the top of our game, our last game of the season,âÄù Erickson said. âÄúI think we have more to give, and we will be the best team we can possibly be by the last game of the season.âÄù