Gophers take three from Badgers

Bridget Haeg

Even for the defending national champions with a virtually spotless record, coming away with just three points from the weekend is fine.

But, for Minnesota’s women’s hockey team, coming away with three points on the weekend and feeling unsatisfied with its performance simply is not.

“We weren’t happy with our play,” senior forward Kelly Stephens said. “We just didn’t come out ready to play at the beginnings of the games, and that was not acceptable to our standards.”

In two tight games, top-ranked Minnesota (14-0-2, 12-0-2 WCHA) managed to shut out Wisconsin 2-0 Saturday and squeeze out a 3-3 tie Sunday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.

The problem was not a lack of offensive firepower. In fact, the Gophers had plenty of chances, outshooting the Badgers 62-39.

Rather, the challenge lay in the execution.

“We need to get them through, get them on the net, do something with them,” Stephens said. “We just need to clean up around the net.”

Senior goaltender Jody Horak did her part to protect the Gophers’ net, shutting down the Badgers offense Saturday by posting 22 saves to earn her fifth shutout of the season.

She tied her own single-season shutout record, set in 2002-03, and added 14 more saves Sunday.

While the Gophers expected a tough Badgers (11-4-1, 7-4-1) defense, they said they found it to be beatable.

“The Wisconsin defense is vulnerable, and, at times, we beat them,” junior forward Natalie Darwitz said. “We just didn’t capitalize, and we just didn’t do enough.”

The two teams had plenty of power-play opportunities to do so between Wisconsin’s 24 penalties and Minnesota’s 18.

But Wisconsin’s penalty kill did prove effective in shutting down Minnesota’s power play, limiting the top unit in the nation (37.8 percent) to only two power-play goals on the weekend.

Darwitz (three goals, one assist) and Stephens (two goals, two assists) each scored a power-play goal in game two.

“We knew that Wisconsin would be very strong defensively,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “They’re hard to score against, so it was a very typical series for us.”

Despite running a different forecheck, which Halldorson said was effective, and being able to stretch their legs on the Kohl Center’s Olympic-size rink, the Gophers could not break the 3-3 tie in the third period Sunday.

“I thought we played better than Wisconsin,” Darwitz said. “But we still didn’t play very good Minnesota hockey.”