Wis. ends Gophers’ unbeaten streak

by Austin Cumblad

The Minnesota women’s hockey team started its Western Collegiate Hockey Association play this season with a loss and a tie and ended it that way as well.

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The Gophers suffered through a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon but managed to grab a point Sunday with a 2-2 tie.

A weekend that had the potential to greatly alter the WCHA standings did nothing of the sort as Minnesota-Duluth locked up the regular season title with a sweep of St. Cloud State and although the Badgers took 3 of 4 points from Minnesota, the Gophers stayed ahead of the Badgers and finished in second.

It quickly became clear on Saturday that Wisconsin was better than any team Minnesota had played in 2008, and the Gophers were not ready.

Despite being caught flat and being on its heels most of the game, Minnesota managed to keep the game within one going into the third period.

In the third, however, the wheels came off.

Left wing Jinelle Zaugg extended the Badgers’ lead to 3-1 just three and a half minutes in and Wisconsin never looked back, adding two more goals as insurance and thoroughly frustrating the Gophers.

“The game never felt lost at any point throughout the first two periods,” senior forward Bobbi Ross said. “I think we had good attitudes and were excited about the chance to come back but once it got to be 4-1, I think there was some frustration setting in.”

And that frustration showed itself through some foolish penalties. Minnesota marched to the box four times in the period, and although the Badgers did not capitalize on their power plays, the Gophers left themselves essentially no chance to cut into the deficit.

“I think we lost our discipline,” coach Brad Frost said. “Whether it’s selfishness or just not sticking to our systems we shouldn’t be taking penalties like that when we’re trying to get back in a game.”

On Sunday, however, the discipline was back.

Though the outcome wasn’t exactly what Minnesota wanted, it was clear from the first period that the game would turn out differently.

For one, the Gophers were not being out-skated like they were all day Saturday, as a result they were able to avoid penalties. Minnesota had only four penalties on Sunday and none of them came in the third period or in overtime.

In addition, the Gophers actually found the net on the power play. Wisconsin committed only two penalties in the game but Minnesota was able to capitalize on one of them.

The Gophers jumped out to a 1-0 lead just seconds into their first power play of the day as senior defenseman Anya Miller banged home a rebound off a shot by Ross.

Coming into the game, Minnesota had yet to lose when scoring first in a game, and Sunday was no exception.

Wisconsin leveled the score at 1-1 early in the second but the Gophers responded seven minutes later when sophomore defenseman Alexandra Zebro scored her first ever collegiate goal.

After sitting out all of Saturday’s game, Zebro made the most of the opportunities she had on Sunday.

“She didn’t play a shift last night,” Frost said. “She really responded to some encouragement and just getting out there to prove that she should be playing.”

Both Miller and Zebro scored from very near the crease, an unfamiliar place for a defenseman. Nevertheless, they were able to capitalize on the short-range chances.

But the Minnesota defensemen were unable to prevent Wisconsin from capitalizing again as freshman forward Hilary Knight knotted the score at 2-2 just over a minute into the third. Neither team was able to do anything more in the third or the overtime period and each left the game with a point.

What the Gophers really left the game with, however, was confidence. After an extremely disheartening game Saturday, the biggest thing Minnesota was looking for was a better showing on Sunday.

“We played well and that’s what was important,” Miller said. “We played the game that we normally play and that we should be playing and also clinched second place in the WCHA.”