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Women’s hockey gets revenge in WCHA championship

Minnesota took down Ohio State in convincing fashion to take home the WCHA Final Faceoff championship.
Image by Ethan Fine
Forward Audrey Wethington drives the puck down the ice during Minnesota’s game against St. Cloud, Feb. 11, 2022.

Over the weekend, Minnesota hosted the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Final Faceoff at Ridder Arena.

The Final Faceoff consisted of four teams: Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Duluth.

In the semifinals on Friday, Ohio State faced Duluth, and Minnesota took on Wisconsin. Ohio State defeated Duluth 2-1 and Minnesota downed Wisconsin 4-2 to advance to the championship.

On Saturday, Ohio State and Minnesota faced off in the championship game. The Gophers emerged victorious, defeating No. 1 Ohio State 3-1.

March 3 vs. Wisconsin

Minnesota squared off against Wisconsin on Friday night. The last time these two teams met in the WCHA Final Faceoff was in 2021, when the Badgers took down the Gophers 5-3.

In the WCHA 2022-23 regular season, Minnesota failed to beat Wisconsin a single time in regulation, losing twice in regulation and tying twice.

However, playoffs are a different story, so the Gophers came into this matchup with a fresh slate.

Minnesota’s third line of Madison Kaiser, Peyton Hemp and Savannah Norcross went to work on Wisconsin’s defense, leading to a prime scoring chance in the early stages of the first period.

Eventually, Hemp found Kaiser in the slot and buried a shot far side to open the scoring for the Gophers.

Minnesota held their 1-0 lead entering the first intermission.

Wisconsin’s Casey O’Brien evened up the score in the first two minutes of the second period, capitalizing on a turnover under the Gophers’ net.

Roughly five minutes later, Madeline Wethington regained the lead for Minnesota, slamming home a loose puck following a net-front scramble.

The Badgers did not back down, yet again evening the score with a power play goal from Nicole LaMantia later on in the second period.

Entering the third period, the game was level at 2-2. For Wisconsin, this scenario wasn’t ideal. Prior to this game, the Badgers were 0-4-0 in games this season where they were tied entering the third period.

Under pressure, Wisconsin’s Britta Curl took down Taylor Heise to put Minnesota on the power play.

Less than 30 seconds into the power play, Grace Zumwinkle fired a shot from the point that was deflected to Catie Skaja, who rang a shot off the post. Skaja’s rebound came out to Abbey Murphy, who managed to bury the rebound to give Minnesota the lead.

Skaja tacked on an empty-netter late in the third and the Gophers held off Wisconsin 4-2.

Skylar Vetter was credited with 23 saves, and Minnesota marched on to face Ohio State in the WCHA championship game on Saturday.

March 4 vs. Ohio State

Last season, the Buckeyes defeated the Gophers in the WCHA championship game, so Minnesota was out for revenge.

Again, Minnesota’s third line came up big as Norcross opened the scoring late in the first period. Ohio State attempted to challenge the play for goaltender interference, but to no avail as the on-ice ruling was upheld.

At the end of the first period, Ohio State’s Jennifer Gardiner took a five-minute major penalty for contact to the head.

The Gophers began the second period with a 1-0 lead and a five-minute power play. Unfortunately for Minnesota, the Buckeyes would kill the entire five minutes as they played solid lockdown defense.

Gabby Rosenthal took another penalty for Ohio State later on in the second period, giving Minnesota their second straight power play.

This time, the Gophers were able to capitalize and Murphy beat goaltender Amanda Thiele far-side to increase her team’s lead to two goals.

Rosenthal compensated for her penalty, burying Makenna Webster’s rebound.

Minnesota’s third line once again struck as Hemp responded just one minute later.

The Gophers were 20 minutes away from taking home a WCHA championship, holding a 3-1 lead over the Buckeyes.

Though Minnesota dominated on offense in the later parts of the second period, Ohio State turned the tide at the beginning of the third.

Ohio State’s pressure proved too much and Hemp was forced to take a slashing penalty five minutes into the third period.

Nonetheless, Vetter stood tall in net and Minnesota killed off the power play.

Despite recording 13 shots and pouring on heavy offense, Minnesota managed to fend off No. 1 Ohio State and win the WCHA title 3-1.

Gophers Murphy, Heise, Hemp, Wethington and Vetter were named to the All-WCHA Tournament Team. Murphy was awarded with the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

In a press email, Head Coach Brad Frost said, “To be able to win in a tournament format is a big deal for this group because they haven’t done that in a while.”

This was Minnesota’s first WCHA championship since 2018 and Frost’s fifth as the Gophers’ head coach.

Additionally, the win gives Minnesota an automatic qualification for the NCAA tournament.

The Gophers can now ride their momentum into the NCAA tournament, where they will look to earn their first trip to the Frozen Four since 2019.

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