Gophers women’s hockey falls 5-3 to top-seed Wisconsin in WCHA Final Faceoff

The Gophers will not receive an automatic bid for the NCAA tournament after a loss to Wisconsin. They will find out on Sunday whether they make the tournament.

Gophers+defenseman+Madeline+Wethington+pursues+an+opponent+at+Ridder+Arena+on+Sunday%2C+Nov.+22.+The+Gophers+ultimately+fell+to+the+Ohio+State+Buckeyes+2-1.

Emily Pofahl

Gophers defenseman Madeline Wethington pursues an opponent at Ridder Arena on Sunday, Nov. 22. The Gophers ultimately fell to the Ohio State Buckeyes 2-1.

Matthew Kennedy, Sports Reporter

The Gophers women’s hockey team, the fourth seed, faced off against top-seed Wisconsin in the opening game of the 2021 WCHA Final Faceoff. They played an even game throughout the first half of the first period but ultimately fell 5-3.

Wisconsin forward Sophie Shirley scored the first goal of the game off of a textbook lead-in pass from Britta Curl on a two-on-one breakaway. With Shirley’s 10th goal of the season, the Badgers went up 1-0 midway through the first and kept that lead until the end of the period with eight shots on goal apiece.

In the second period, the Badgers got another close opportunity in front of the net with forward Makenna Webster converting on a goal to make the game 2-0. The Gophers soon answered with an Abbey Murphy goal from the slot to diminish the Wisconsin lead back to a one-goal advantage.

The Badgers ended the period with a 3-1 lead after Webster scored her second of the game. The Badgers finally converted on their fourth power play opportunity after previously going 0-for-3. The Gophers did not have any power plays at this point of the game and finished 0-of-1 with a chance midway through the third period.

To start out the final period, Lauren Bench replaced Makayla Pahl as goalie for the Gophers. And with less than three minutes elapsed in the period, redshirt junior forward Amy Potomak scored her third goal of the season to make the game 3-2.

Gophers head coach Brad Frost said there was a needed change after the second period.

“I felt like Lauren could come in and jump-start us a little bit,” he said. “I wasn’t planning on playing both goalies tonight, but that’s how it worked out.”

The Badgers ended up returning the lead to a two-goal advantage as freshman forward Lacey Eden swooped in on an unsuspecting Bench, who left the net empty trying to pass to another player. A rare easy opportunity ended up costing Minnesota the game, even with the Gophers managing to bring the game back to 4-3 with a late Grace Zumwinkle goal.

Wisconsin added a late goal with only seconds left from Curl. Minnesota outshot Wisconsin 26-23 but still came up short.

“Tough result here tonight, but man, I thought our team played well,” Frost told Gopher Sports. “As a group we defended well and were on it. I know saying we defended well and giving up five doesn’t often times make a whole lot of sense, but I just loved how our team competed.”

“We got down a couple goals a couple times and got it to one and had a ton of momentum, and unfortunately, whether it was being in the box too much or not catching any bounces, the result did not end up the way we wanted it to.”

By losing to Wisconsin, the Gophers will not receive an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament after failing to win the WCHA championship. They will wait until Sunday at 8 p.m. to see whether they make the tournament.