Frozen Four hopes dashed by Badgers

Gophers miss out on national tournament for the first time since the 2000-01 season.

by Brian Deutsch

After advancing to its sixth-straight Western Collegiate Hockey Association Championship game, the Minnesota women’s hockey team came up just short of its fifth WCHA Championship after falling to Wisconsin 3-1 Sunday at Ridder Arena.

“We fell a little short today, but I was really proud of our team’s effort,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “I felt it was a heartfelt game, and overall this weekend was a very positive one for us.”

The loss dropped the Gophers (23-12-1 overall, 17-10-1 WCHA) out of contention for the NCAA tournament next weekend – the first time Minnesota has failed to make it to the tournament since the 2000-01 season.

“Everyone is real low as you would expect,” junior forward Bobbi Ross said of her teammates. “They’re extremely proud of how we fought this weekend, there’s no doubt about that.”

Wisconsin (33-1-4, 23-1-4) pulled out to an early 1-0 lead when freshman forward Meghan Duggan caught the puck right in front of the net and fired a wrist-shot past sophomore goaltender Kim Hanlon.

Duggan’s first period goal came during a five-on-three advantage for the Badgers, one of two they would have in the first period alone.

The Gophers were whistled for five penalties in all during the first period, which prevented Minnesota coming out in full force as they had Saturday.

Minnesota eventually evened the score during a short-handed scoring opportunity when Badgers defenseman Meaghan Mikkelson misplayed the puck in front of the Badgers’ net.

Senior netminder Christine Dufour stopped the Gophers’ initial shot, but junior forward Bobbi Ross wrapped the puck around Dufour, who was sprawling to make the save, for her 19th goal of the season, knotting the game at 1-1.

Ross’ goal snapped a six-game shutout streak for the Badgers, who haven’t allowed a goal since Feb. 11.

But the deadlock would not last as Wisconsin freshman forward Emily Kranz beat Hanlon while being driven to the ice by Minnesota freshman Tiffany Johnson, putting the Badgers back on top 10:58 into the second period.

While the defense tightened up its play – allowing just two Minnesota shots in the third period, sophomore defenseman Rachel Bible added a final insurance goal for the Badgers.

“One of their strengths is their team defense. They do a great job shutting down other teams’ offense,” Halldorson said. “It’s why they are one of the top teams in the country.”

Wisconsin’s win marked the second-straight WCHA Championship for coach Mark Johnson’s squad, who drew the No. 1 seed in Sunday evening’s national selection.

The Badgers will take eighth-seeded Harvard next week in the regional finals.

“I give a lot of credit to our upperclassmen and our goaltenders. They committed themselves in early September to make a run at things this season,” Johnson said. “They’ve been consistent with their habits throughout the course of the winter and it’s nice to see this group get rewarded.”

Minnesota advanced to the WCHA Championships after upsetting second-seeded Minnesota Duluth in a 3-2 overtime thriller Saturday afternoon.

In a game where four of the five goals were scored during power plays, Minnesota’s second ranked power-play lines were what won the game for the Gophers.

Minnesota converted two of its six advantages while Duluth went two for five on the night.

The Bulldogs prevented Minnesota from even putting a power-play shot on goal during the second and third periods while converting both of their goals in the same span.

But it was sophomore forward Gigi Marvin’s power-play goal 1:08 into overtime that solidified the win for the Gophers.