Today's conference final was exactly the sort of match up expected between the Gophers and the Badgers: a fast, physical, tightly contested game that left the audience wondering who the victor would be until the final buzzer. First period started with the Badgers bolting out of the gate and by the time the Gophers finally got their first direct shot on goal almost nine minutes into the period, they had six or seven. Then Annie Pankowski had a breakaway down the left side with a perfect shot on Minnesota's goal, which just hit the crossbar and deflected away. She wasn't the only Badger with a breakaway and Amanda Leveille had to pull off some impressive catches and deflections to keep the Badgers off the scoreboard.
The first called penalty was on Wisconsin's Erika Sowchuk when she tripped Kate Schipper and sent her flying at 18:55. However, there were quite a few other calls the refs could have madeâincluding when Kelly Pannek flattened goaltender Ann-Reneé Desbiens or when Pankowski hit Amanda Kessel and she went into the boards head firstâto get the game under control and it was lucky no one was visibly injured during the game.
Minnesota made Desbiens and Badger defense work to keep the puck out. Even after the penalty expired the Gophers continued buzzing around Wisconsin's crease with reprieves coming only when defense cleared the zone. At one point there was a mess at the left corner of the net after a Gopher wraparound attempt and Desbiens's leg pad was the only reason the puck didn't go in. Moments later the goalie was entirely knocked out of her crease and as she lay prone across the ice, glove groping along the edge of the crease, she still kept it out of the net with the help of her defense. Shortly thereafter Pannek tried crashing the net and actually slid under Desbiens tangling the pair.
At 10:04 Mellissa Channell took an interference penalty when she knocked Hannah Brandt down along the boards as she entered Wisconsin's zone. On this power play Minnesota didn't get a lot of shots because whenever a Gopher entered the zone a Badger was ready to get physical with them, usually by taking them into the boards. If the refs were willing to just let them play, as they were during this game, it was an incredibly effective penalty kill. Shortly after it expired Wisconsin launched a major offensive on Minnesota. Sarah Nurse shot from the top of the right circle and Leveille blocked it while butterflied, but the puck stuck underneath her. As she and three other Gophers scrambled to clear the crease, Sydney McKibbon poked the puck out from under her, then scored at 13:12.
This setback just spurred Minnesota onward and they went straight back to Wisconsin's net. They spent the rest of the period trying to equalize and the final play left both Schipper and Badger Courtney Burke wiped out on the ice as the buzzer rang. After the teams left the ice the officials assessed a holding penalty against Wisconsin's Emily Clark so that Minnesota started third period with a power play.
There was a near call when Desbiens went to fetch the puck behind her net and accidentally passed it to a Gopher, but that was Minnesota's best chance on Clark's penalty. Wisconsin did make some attempts to widen the gap, but it was a mostly Minnesota controlled period. Kessel must have been feeling frustrated because after a whistle she swiped her stick at a couple of Badgers by Wisconsin's crease. Then something happened in Wisconsin's left corner and Channell went back to the box for boarding at 7:45. It was starting to feel a little like the refs were favoring Minnesotaâas both teams had made numerous penalties, but only Wisconsin's had been calledâbut then Kessel got an interference penalty at 8:09 to put the teams on 4-on-4 play. Neither team scored on the opened ice.
Once both teams were back to full strength, Leveille made a save, and then McKibbon crashed into her, which resulted in the Badger sliding under the goalie, reminiscent of the Pannek-Desbiens collision second period. After that the Gophers spent the last ten minutes of the period blitzing the Badgers. Wisconsin's defense got desperate, tossing Gophers or pulling them down to keep them from shooting as Desbiens zipped back and forth across her crease. With 2:36 left in the game Wisconsin used their timeout to rest because Minnesota wouldn't let them change skaters. Leveille was pulled for the extra skater with a minute left and the puck never left Wisconsin's zone.
It wasn't until the puck was trapped along the boards with four seconds left in the game that it because clear Minnesota wasn't going to tie. Wisconsin won 1-0 after facing 35 shots and putting up 24 of their own, defending their WCHA Final Face-Off title. It was an excellent game and both teams brought their best to the ice.
Despite the loss, Minnesota still has a great chance of making it to the Frozen Four. They're the 3rd seed for the NCAA Quarterfinals and will be hosting Princeton. Wisconsin hosts Mercyhurst, while Boston College has Northeastern and Quinnipiac Clarkson. The Gophers battle Tigers at Ridder Arena on March 12th, at 4 pm.