On a typical Friday night game the Gophers start out sluggishly, taking until second period for their engines to reach full throttle and start acting like the offensive powerhouse they are. While it's true Wisconsin rushed into their zone immediately after puck drop, Minnesota pushed back, getting the drop on them. Megan Wolfe shot from the right circle and while Ann-Reneé Desbiens made the initial save, the puck squeezed through her pads and bounced into goal at 2:48. Taylor Williamson and Lee Stecklein had the assists. The Gophers continued hounding the Badgers, which paid off a few minutes later when Hannah Brandt passed to Amanda Kessel and she wrapped around the back of Wisconsin's net. Despite Desbiens lunging over to meet her on the left side, Kessel's wide shot found the back of the net.
The Badgers did not take kindly to this unexpected turn of events. Mellissa Channell earned a hooking penalty at 8:14. Wisconsin's Sarah Nurse streaked up the sides of the rink while homing in on goaltender Amanda Leveille during each penalty kill, but was nullified on every attempt Friday night. After Milicia McMillen helped Sydney McKibbon drop her stick the small Badger tried shoving the large Gopher and only knocked herself back. Immediately after, a Badger crashed into Minnesota's net causing an absolute mess, which resulted in Wolfe to the box for roughing at 14:21. A minute later Dani Cameranesi joined Wolfe because there were too many Gophers on the ice. Despite the 5-on-3 play Minnesota killed both penalties.
Badgers were playing a little better second period. Mostly, Desbiens seemed to be playing her game. Before this Ridder series there were only three instances where she had multiple goals against this season. Both goalies made some excellent acrobatic saves. Then McKibbon took Brandt out in the Wisconsin crease, putting the Badgers on the penalty kill for interference at 8:48. Their defense tightly guarded against the Gophers' power play, but then allowed Sydney Baldwin to come up the right side and score with a show shot from the circle. Tensions on both sides mounted as Gophers and Badgers shoved each other after the whistle when either goaltender made the save. Games between these teams are always physical and a lot of skaters hit the ice.
Less than a minute and a half into third period Sophia Shaver was in the box because Wisconsin had too many skaters on the ice. As soon as the penalty was killed Shaver tried to enter Minnesota's zone with the puck and Stecklein grabbed her, resulting in a holding minor. That penalty was also killed; with the most exciting event being Kate Schipper knocked Annie Pankowski off her feet. Then Courtney Burke knocked Caitlin Reilly down, who hit the ice hard and did not get up immediately, which in turn caused the Badger to accidentally trample her along the Minnesota boards before she could separate. Reilly was hurt badly enough she had to be helped off the ice and did not play in Saturday's game. Nate Wells @gopherstate reports that Reilly broke her collarbone and will be out for the rest of the season.
According to Coach Frost, #Gophers will be without Caitlin Reilly for the rest of the season. Sophomore broke her collarbone Friday.— Nate Wells (@gopherstate) February 20, 2016
After play resumed the Gophers were back in Wisconsin's zone. Sarah Potomak made a neat pass from the right circle to Kessel in the slot, who fell as she scored her 100th career goal at 7:36. Brandt had the second assist. Two minutes later as another Badger attempt ended McKibbon was jostled and she fell on Leveille. As soon as she was up and away from the goaltender McMillen skated up, slashed her, then skated straight toward the penalty box as the Badger face planted on the ice. McMillen indeed received a slashing minor. Two minutes after Minnesota successfully killed it Emily Clark took a checking penalty when a Badger took Stecklein into the boards, but it actually looked like Kim Drake was the offender. These last penalties didn't affect the score and Minnesota won 4-0, shots 36-35 also in their favor.
Before the game started on Saturday Minnesota took a few minutes to honor their departing seniors in the last game of the regular season. As the game was also televised, it looked like they broadcasted the ceremony during first intermission. As soon as that ended it was time to announce the starting line ups and begin the game.
At 2:07 Wisconsin's Erika Sowchuk took a high sticking penalty. On the resulting power play Kelly Pannek passed to Wolfe at the left circle, and she passed it to Potomak, who drove it home from between the circles. Less than two minutes later Desbiens went to cover the puck on the left side, but it popped loose and there were bodies in the way, which allowed Schipper to swoop in and score on the open right side at 5:00. Cameranesi and Pannek had the assists. Thirty seconds later Pankowski checked a Gopher right into her own bench, which riled the team, and she went to the box before McMillen could retaliate.
The Badgers killed the penalty, but the game was already feeling like a repeat of yesterday. Luckily, things turned in a different direction after that. While the Gophers kept swarming Wisconsin's zone every chance they got, eventually Sowchuk streaked up the right side with a Gopher on her heels, then fired low from the right circle. Her shot went in under Leveille at 12:51, with assists by Pankowski and Jenny Ryan.
The teams continued to push the boundaries of what was allowable. Wisconsin got caught with too many skaters on the ice at 2:55 and Baylee Wellhausen was stuck serving the penalty. Brandt raced down the center and had a great shot on the power play, but was denied, and the Badgers ran out the clock. The teams fell into a series of back and forth play, with each side making several attempts before losing the puck. This came to an end when Minnesota used their time out at 8:32.
A few minutes after the game resumed Minnesota crashed the net, which they started doing more after Kessel returned, and Cara Piazza battled Desbiens until she eventually poked the puck past to score at 13:19. A Badger also ended up in goal, but after review of the play it was declared good. Williamson and Skarzynski had the assists. At 16:34 Nurse similarly crashed into Leveille to score, and it was reviewed to see if she kicked it in, with assists by Katy Harding and Drake. Since she did collide with Leveille on the play McMillen went after Nurse after the whistle, which immediately put her in the box for roughing. Neither that power play, nor the one Minnesota received when Burke took an interference minor at 19:03, resulted in a conversion.
Three minutes after Burke's penalty expired there was a mess at Minnesota's net. It was chaos with bodies sprawled across the ice and Leveille couldn't get to the puck. When McMillen was knocked down she landed with the puck right in front of her and automatically covered it like she was a goaltender. A moment later she seemed to realize she was not and so she picked it up and tossed it out of the crease. Play was whistled down, McMillen earned another penalty, this time for closing her hand on the pick, and Wisconsin received a penalty shot. Pankowski was tapped to take it. As she skated in with the puck Pankowski faked to the left just long enough for Leveille to slide her leg over, then tapped it in on the right side, tying the game at 4:08.
Brandt took a hooking penalty at 7:59 and the Badgers swarmed with a vengeance, eager to finally take the lead. However, the Gophers rebuffed them and even forced a face off back in Wisconsin's zone at 9:16. Unwilling to let this chance slip through their fingers Wisconsin's head coach, Mark Johnson, used their time out to regroup, but it did no good. Even if she ended up on her back, Leveille still kept the puck out. At the end of the period Cameranesi streaked up the left side, but her shot went wide when a Badger dived in front of her, which drove the game into overtime.
Both teams hammered the goaltenders as best they could, unwilling to go to a shootout. However it was Pannek who eventually ended things when she raced down the middle and flipped the puck into goal over Desbien's right shoulder at 4:06. Piazza had the lone assist. With that the Gophers not only won 4-3, but swept the Badgers, which was a nice way to repay Wisconsin after they had done the same at La Bahn back in December. While their records now mirror each other, 24-3-1 in conference, Wisconsin still has a point over Minnesota due to their tie games. Interestingly enough both teams ended up in a shootout against North Dakota and, while Minnesota lost theirs, Wisconsin won, which means they still have one more point. That's also why they received the WCHA regular season tournament last weekend; they didn't technically need to win these games, though they certainly wanted to beat the Gophers.
Next weekend Minnesota hosts the seventh WCHA seeded Ohio State in a best of three series. It's the WCHA First Round and the Gophers are expected to finish the Buckeyes in two games. Wisconsin will be hosting eighth place Minnesota State. Third seeded Bemidji State hosts Minnesota Duluth, while North Dakota gets a visit from St. Cloud State. The winners of these four match ups will then travel to Ridder Arena for the WCHA Final Face-Off, which occurs March 5th & 6th, for an exciting conference showdown.