Women’s hockey splits with Wisconsin

Aaron Blake

Sunday afternoon wasn’t the first time Wisconsin goaltender Jackie MacMillan lay motionless inside her net while Minnesota players mobbed the game’s hero.

On Dec. 1, it was Jerilyn Glenn beating MacMillan one-on-one with 45 seconds remaining in overtime. Sunday, it was freshman Kristy Oonincx scoring the one-on-one goal, a play set up nicely by Ronda Curtin and fellow freshman Kelly Stephens.

The top-ranked Gophers (24-3-5, 17-2-3 WCHA) gained a split with the Badgers (17-10-2, 23-2-5) after a 3-2 overtime victory Sunday and a 2-0 loss on Saturday at Mariucci Arena.

“We had that play drawn up,” Oonincx said. “It didn’t work the first time we tried it but we executed it perfectly after that. Kelly made a beautiful play and I just shot it in there.”

Curtin made the up-ice outlet pass while Stephens flew down the left side. Stephens found a streaking Oonincx on the other side of the rink,
and Oonincx was able to
beat MacMillan head-on while avoiding bowling her over.

Besides gaining a split in the series and avenging the shutout on Saturday, the two points mean Minnesota clinches a tie for the WCHA regular-season title. The team can clinch sole possession with a point in either game against St. Cloud State in two weeks.

“I’m really happy that we ended up with a split because that Wisconsin team is very talented,” Gophers coach Laura Halldorson said. “It’s great that we know we’ll be at least sharing the regular-season championship.”

Minnesota was fortunate to gain a split after it had been outplayed and held scoreless for the first five periods of the weekend.

The Gophers couldn’t find the net despite having numerous opportunities in the first period of Sunday’s game. They didn’t get those chances in the second frame, going more than 10 minutes into the period without a shot on goal.

But Kelly Stephens changed that quickly in the third stanza. Just 10 seconds in, Stephens tapped the puck past MacMillan amid a flurry around the net to even the score at one.

After a Steph Millar goal gave Wisconsin a 2-1 lead, senior captain Tracy Engstrom pulled the Gophers even once again at the 16:32 mark to send the game into overtime.

There was no dramatic finish on Saturday, however.

Tallying only 15 shots on goal in the contest, Minnesota was shutout for the first time since Oct. 20. In addition, the loss snapped a team-record 24-game unbeaten streak, dating back to Oct. 27.

Badgers sophomore Meghan Hunter scored the game-winning goal at 3:50 of the third period using a screen to put the puck under Gophers goalie Jody Horak, who suffered her first career loss.

“They have some great defenders,” senior captain Laura Slominski said after Saturday’s game.

“We lacked an intensity today that we had in the past. We know we can do better.”

Sunday started the improvement, and Minnesota now has two weeks to ready itself for its final two regular season games and a run at the NCAA Frozen Four.

Aaron Blake covers women’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]