Gophers impress record crowd with 25th straight win

Minnesota defeated Wisconsin 4-1 in front of an announced sellout crowd of 3,400 at Ridder Arena.

Betsy Helfand

An announced record crowd of 3,400 fans came to Ridder Arena on Saturday to see the top-ranked Gophers hockey team.

The Gophers delivered in their first-ever sellout at Ridder, beating No. 10 Wisconsin 4-1 in a rematch of last year’s national championship game.

Minnesota scored four second-period goals, which made all the difference in a game that was otherwise closely contested.

Gophers goalie Noora Räty made an incredible save sprawled on the ice to preserve a scoreless tie in the second period.

“I was hoping she would get up and make a routine save,” head coach Brad Frost said, “but she’s more for the dramatic there, flashing the glove.”

Räty had made a save on the previous shot attempt, and she hadn’t gotten up by the time Wisconsin forward Jordan Bricker shot at the rebound.

After Räty’s save, Minnesota’s offense exploded for four goals in about 10 minutes, effectively sealing the game.

“That’s huge for us. It keeps us in the game and gives us momentum,” junior forward Amanda Kessel said of Räty’s save. “It gives us confidence knowing that we’ve got a great goaltender behind us.”

Freshman forward Maryanne Menefee, who returned to the lineup after violating team rules and not dressing last week, gave Minnesota a lead 5:37 into the second period.

Kessel scored a goal less than five minutes later, and Sarah Davis made it 3-0 a little more than a minute later. Davis’ goal was a backhanded flick over goalie Alex Rigsby’s shoulder.

Davis assisted on the Gophers’ fourth goal, which Becky Kortum scored while Rigsby was caught off-guard after making a save.

Davis has struggled to find the stat sheet this season. With two points Saturday, she now has seven on the season.

“It’s just one of those seasons, I guess,” Davis said, “I just try to tell myself to keep working hard — eventually it’ll go in.”

Minnesota has set a trend recently of scoring most of its goals in the second period. Frost said the Gophers caught Wisconsin with tired legs in the second period and capitalized with a couple of its goals.

Kessel said she thought Minnesota came out a bit tired in the first period.

“I know a couple of us had heavy legs,” she said.

The Gophers outshot the Badgers 14-8 in the first period, which Frost said he thought was somewhat choppy.

“We weren’t possessing the puck a whole lot,” he said. “We weren’t moving our feet the way we need to.”

Kessel said she thought the team used the puck better down low in the second period.

Brianna Decker, Wisconsin’s top-scoring forward and last year’s Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner, scored in the third period for the Badgers.

The Gophers have won 25 straight games, most of them in front of sparse crowd. But Davis said the team needs fan support like it had Saturday in every game because it gives the team more energy.

She said Saturday was the first time she had experienced the wave at Ridder.

“I wasn’t that focused [on] that shift because I was too caught up on the wave going around the arena,” Davis said.

The Gophers and Badgers will meet again Sunday, Minnesota will try to extend its NCAA Division I-record winning streak to 26 games.

“That was a tremendous pace today,” Frost said. “Both teams I think are going to be pretty tired and pretty sore, but we’ll both be ready to go tomorrow.”