Gophers outlast Badgers in battle of top three teams

Grant Donald

Despite an unusually slow start to conference play, the No. 2 Gophers have been blowing by the competition recently and are now in position to return to the top of the WCHA standings after beating No. 3 Wisconsin 4-1 Saturday afternoon.

The victory extended Minnesota’s win streak in the border battle to 14 straight and with another win Sunday, the Gophers will top the WCHA with just over a month left in the season.

“Great win, really proud of our kids and the effort they put forth,” head coach Brad Frost said. “Our big time players stepped up again here tonight with [Dani] Cameranesi, [Hannah] Brandt and [Maryanne] Menefee really kind of carrying the load.”

Minnesota’s top line of Menefee, Brandt and Camertanesi has been a lethal combination over the last month and Saturday was no different. The trio combined for seven points including two goals from Brandt to seal the victory.

“We kind of slowed things down over winter break and had a lot of practices so just being able to get back into [a game] and you are playing such a great team like Wisconsin so you are going 110 percent the entire time. The fans brought a lot of energy which really helped us too.” Cameranesi said.

While Saturday marked just the third game in over a month for the Gophers, it was the Badgers first game after a lengthy five-week hiatus.

Because of that, Wisconsin wasted no time as they took the opening puck drop down the ice and got two solid shots on junior goaltender Amanda Leveille. The quick start to the game didn’t faze the Canadian native though, as she made the first of her eventual 23 saves on the game.

“Our team gets really pumped up every time we play Wisconsin,” Leveille said. “We know they are going to give us their best game so we have to match that, which we did tonight.”

After a fairly even first period, the Gopher caught a break as the end of the period drew near. Wisconsin defenseman Courtney Burke ended up tripping over the ref’s skate, turning the puck right over to freshman Cara Piazza who calmly put it in the back of the net.

“It was kind of surreal, and it’s one of those moments where I don’t even really remember it going in, but I remember celebrating with my teammates after,” Piazza said.

Wisconsin responded in the second period by taking advantage of a mental mistake by Leveille as she was assessed a delay of game penalty because she took her helmet off in the middle of play. Granted, Leveille had lost her stick and blocker in a collision a few seconds earlier but nevertheless Wisconsin was put on the power play and converted to tie the game at one.

“That wasn’t the smartest play on my part,” Leveille said. “Any time the blocker comes off, it’s not a reason for the ref to blow the whistle, and I kind of wanted him to blow it, because it was a Wisconsin girl that ran into me.”

The deadlock didn’t last long, as Brandt weaved her way through the Badger defense five minutes later and converted her WCHA leading 19th goal of the season. Cameranesi added a goal early in the third period and Brandt deflected in a Cameranesi blast from the blue line to seal the deal for Minnesota.

The two teams will play the series finale Sunday at 2 p.m. with the winner taking control of the WCHA.

"The great thing about this rivalry is we don't have to get our team fired up," Frost said. "They know what's on the line and what's at stake, and they just want to come out and play as well as they can."