Gophers fall short of WCHA title

Minnesota lost 3-1 to Wisconsin on Sunday at Ridder Arena.

Forward Abigail Boreen keeps and eye on Wisconsin's Caitlin Schneider on Sunday, March 10 at Ridder Arena.

Jack Rodgers

Forward Abigail Boreen keeps and eye on Wisconsin’s Caitlin Schneider on Sunday, March 10 at Ridder Arena.

Erik Nelson

Losing the WCHA regular-season title to Minnesota turned out to be a blessing for Wisconsin. 

No. 2 Wisconsin (32-4-2) defeated No. 1 Minnesota (30-5-1) 3-1 in the 2019 WCHA Final Faceoff championship game. The Badgers avenged their 2018 WCHA Final Faceoff loss, winning their eighth WCHA title and their second in three seasons.

“It was an entertaining game,” said head coach Brad Frost. “Credit to Wisconsin and congratulations to them. It’s a championship that our team wanted badly. As the game went on, the desperation continued and elevated. I’m proud of our team and we’ll learn from it and take that into account next weekend.”

Badgers left winger Caitlin Schneider opened the scoring, slapping a shot past Gopher goaltender Sydney Scobee at 8:11 of the first period. It was Schneider’s fourth goal of the season. Wisconsin extended its lead to 2-0 when left winger Britta Curl beat Scobee with a wrist shot at 2:41 of the second period. It was Curl’s 22nd goal of the season.

Right winger Grace Zumwinkle scored on a power play for the Gophers to cut the Badgers lead to 2-1. Zumwinkle rifled her 25th goal of the season on a one-timer past Wisconsin goaltender Kristen Campbell. Minnesota pressed for the tying goal, but Campbell was up to the task. Campbell stopped 20 of 21 Gophers’ shots, winning her 32nd game of the season. 

As the final horn sounded, the Badgers skated towards Campbell and shed their gear in celebration. With the victory, Wisconsin clinched the No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Badgers head coach Mark Johnson said his team earned the title.

“They played hard yesterday, found a way to win a game late in the third period last night then they came back and competed at a high level from the drop of the opening puck,” Johnson said. “I’m happy for them. They commit themselves. It’s a long, grinding season. They’re going to have memories that they’re going to take away from this season. I’m happy with the way we played and happy that we’re taking the trophy back to Madison.”

Badgers right winger Annie Pankowski was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. Pankowski’s empty netter with 1:05 remaining in regulation sealed victory for Wisconsin. Zumwinkle and defender Emily Brown were named to the all-tournament team, while Campbell, Curl, Pankowski and defender Maddie Rolfes were Wisconsin’s representatives for the all-tournament team.

Pankowski said she’s grateful for the Badgers fans and the Wisconsin pep band who drove for hours to come to Ridder Arena.

“They make it feel like home,” Pankowski said. “They’re our sixth player on the ice. It’s a hard atmosphere to play in and to come away with a trophy is special.”

Center Kelly Pannek said Minnesota is motivated for next weekend’s NCAA quarterfinal. If the Gophers win on Saturday against No. 7 Princeton (20-7-5), Minnesota will clinch a berth in the Frozen Four in Hamden, Connecticut.

“This is a team that wants to win,” Pannek said. “Anyone at this level wants to win. Losing at your home rink to any team isn’t fun. I want to win next weekend and keep going.”