Saturday was the WCHA Final Face-Off semifinals at Ridder Arena. First seed Wisconsin, 22-2-4-3, faced fourth seed North Dakota, 11-12-5-3, at 2pm. An hour after that game second seed Minnesota, 19-4-5-3, took third seed Minnesota Duluth, 19-5-4-1, to determine who would move onto the tournament finals.
North Dakota’s goaltender Lexie Shaw was already being tested just 48 seconds into the game when a Badger came down the right side and a crash of bodies pushed her into the net. Wisconsin started the game by boxing North Dakota into their zone and the Hawks would occasionally break out to make a run at Ann-Reneé Desbiens, but that soon dissolved into a lot of back and forth for the rest of the period. Sarah Nurse nearly scored off a faceoff halfway through the period, but the puck hit the pipe. Then Presley Norby attempted a wrap around and got knocked to the ice by Amy Menke for her trouble as Shaw made one of many rapid twitch-reaction saves in the game. Rebekah Kolstad flew up the right side and shot into Desbiens. Then Nurse was taken to her knees at the Hawks’ blue line, but she still got the puck into the zone.
Any game with North Dakota is going to be a physical one and Badgers were getting pushed around. As Norby skated along the UND sideboards Sarah Lecavalier came up and elbowed Norby head first into the boards. Lecavalier was charged with checking from behind, a five minute major, and received a game misconduct before being ejected from the game at 14:31. Annelise Rice served the major in her stead. Wisconsin was puck cycling and after a quick pass through the crease to Nurse slammed it into Shaw, caught her own rebound as she lay on the ice, and knocked it into goal at the crease. However, this goal was waved off after a review due to a crease violation. After that Wisconsin had a harder time getting into North Dakota’s zone, despite the power play. As the penalty expired Emma Nuutinen flattened Nurse and first period ended without a goal, shots 17-6 Wisconsin.
The teams continued chasing each other up and down the ice second period. North Dakota had a flurry of activity that ended with the puck in Desbiens’s chest. Wisconsin passed the puck through their own crease with Kolstad not two feet away, which didn’t seem like the best plan, but it worked out and they were soon swarming Shaw at her end of the ice. The Hawks took a took many players on the ice penalty at 6:32 and Nuutinen served it for the team. Then Vilma Tanskanen cross-checked Annie Pankowski at 7:10 and that put Wisconsin on a 5-on-3 power play. After a bit of puck cycling Jenny Ryan got the puck to Emily Clark at the top of the left circle, which allowed Sydney McKibbon to tip it in from just outside the crease at 7:34. The other penalty expired without conversion.
Charly Dahlquist tried to puck the puck on the net from the corner, but Desbiens barely had to deflect the attempt. The Hawks spend a bit more time in the Badgers’ zone and eventually Mellissa Channell sent the puck out over the boards at 13:28. Tempers flared after a whistle in Shaw’s crease then a minute later bodies were down in the Wisconsin zone as skaters chased the puck. Menke zipped down the left side, swooped past the crease, and her shot found the back of the net at 15:34, tying the game. Dahlquist had the lone assist. The rest of the period was a furious back and forth with both goaltenders fending off some difficult shots.
The Badgers were back on the attack third period and Nurse yet again nearly scored from the crease. Menke hooked Maddie Rolfes and flipped her to the ice at 3:35. Wisconsin had several near chances, but North Dakota killed the penalty. Then McKibbon earned a high sticking penalty at 6:19, which put the Hawks on their first power play of the game. However, they were unable to convert. North Dakota used their timeout at 8:57 and shortly after play resumed Gracen Hirschy smashed Clark into the backboards, which sent her to the box for checking at 9:04. After one play McKibbon was in the center of Shaw’s crease with three Hawks surrounding her and shoved and poked at her. Then a Hawk had a breakaway down the right side and Desbiens came out of her crease to meet her. Hwever, the goaltender was able to just take the puck when Mekenzie Steffen interfered and the Hawk fell, which sent Steffen to the box at 10:33. Play remained physical through the penalty and a lot of Badgers hit the ice, but the puck did not bypass Desbiens.
At 14:00 Pankowski’s right circle shot just missed the net. Another Badger attempt sent the puck soaring toward the lights from the blue line and Shaw gloved it as it fell from the sky. Wisconsin continued swarming North Dakota’s zone. As they buzzed about Nurse passed off the backboards to Clark in the slot and she immediately shot it in top shelf at 17:17. Channell had the second assist. Mikaela Gardner took a high sticking penalty at 17:43 and North Daokta immediately pulled Shaw for the extra skater. There was a mess in Desbiens’s crease and then Kolstad shoved McKibbon to the ice after the whistle. This earned Kolstad an excessive roughing penalty aka “roughing ATW,” which was a five minute major, and a disqualification at 18:06. Rice served this penalty for her as well. Within seconds of the 4-on-4 play starting Shaw was pulled again, which allowed Nurse and Gardner to attempt empty netters, but they couldn’t pull it off. Wisconsin won 2-1 with shots, 49-19, also in their favor.
An hour later Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth took to the ice. Perhaps most important thing to the Gophers was that—after missing the second half of the season—Dani Cameranesi returned to the first line. The first two minutes of the game were a lot of back and forth across the ice with the teams trading shots. Then Lara Stalder made a shot from the right circle after the whistle. Ashleigh Brykaliuk went down the left side and her shot just went high thanks to goaltender Sidney Peters’s deflection. Minnesota had a good wrap around attempt on Maddie Rooney, but couldn’t quite finish the job despite all the time they had spent boxing the Bulldogs into their zone. Then Megan Wolfe had a breakaway down the center, which ended in another save by Rooney. Then as the period came to a close there was a mess in Duluth’s crease and a Gopher shoved down after the whistle, but no call. As the period finished scoreless with shots 17-6 Minnesota, it left a déjà vu feeling that this game had already played out a few hours earlier.
The similarities continued second period. Nicole Schammel and Demi Crossman crashed into Rooney, taking out the net in the process. Duluth spent a lot more time in Minnesota’s zone this period, as the teams chased the puck from end to end of the rink. The Bulldogs actually created a moment where the puck was loose in Peters’s crease, but her defense cleared it before they could react. Then Katie Robinson’s right side shot into traffic just missed a tip in by her teammate. Catherine Daoust took a delayed penalty for slashing, which kicked in at 9:59 after the Gophers got some great puck cycling around Duluth’s zone. However, Minnesota didn’t do much with their power play and when Crossman flew down the left side on a breakaway, Cara Piazza checked her to keep her from shooting at 11:54. This power play allowed Katerina Mrazova to score by tipping in Brykaliuk’s slot shot from the right side of the crease at 12:15. Lara Stalder had the second assist.
Not to be outdone, Sarah Potomak got the puck, tore down the left side, and when she creased the crease, she drove the puck home unassisted through the crack between Rooney’s back and the pipe at 13:22. It was a tie game again. Daoust downed Kate Schipper without a call, much to the crowd’s displeasure, but then a Gopher downed a Bulldog in a corner with the same result. Overall though, it wasn’t anywhere near as physical of a game as the Wisconsin v North Dakota game and so skaters got away with some physicality. The officials did call Katherine McGovern for boarding at 19:31, but the Gophers couldn’t generate much beyond puck cycling before the period ended.
They also couldn’t convert in third period and the penalty harmlessly expired. Sydney Brodt’s attempt resulted in Peters doing a rolling save that deflected the puck. Kelly Pannek earned an interference penalty for downing Stalder at 4:36. Peters had to make a sick leg save and gloved the puck just as a skater’s glove flew into goal. The Bulldog’s assault continued past the end of their power play, but by the period’s halfway mark it had turned back into a puck chasing game. Jalyn Elmes tripped a Gopher and Minnesota managed to box Duluth in formost of the two minutes, but barely attempted any shots. Peters continued to see a fair amount of action, as shots were basically even this period. Cameranesi had a shot from the left circle and was immediately taken out by a diving Bulldog, while Rooney made the save. Duluth used their timeout at 19:02 and both teams had a flurry in the final minute, but regulation ended with the game tied 1-1.
Overtime started with Rooney making a sprawling save to keep Duluth in the game. It was the first of many, as the Bulldogs were gassed, so the Gophers just hammered away, outshooting them 20-8. Lindsay Agnew had two attempts at the crease and then Sophie Skarzynski fell, knocking Rooney into the net. Peters had to cartwheel in her crease to keep the puck out. Taylor Williamson had a doorstop shot on Schammel’s rebound, but Rooney still kept the puck out of the net. The Minnesota flurry continued until the officials called for a timeout at 10:30 to review a play. Potomak nearly scored off a sudden pass through Duluth’s crease. Then Cameranesi’s shot hit Rooney’s center mass as well. As overtime neared its end, Schipper had a breakaway, which Rooney stopped with her foot. Immediately after Lee Stecklein pulled the same maneuver with the same results.
Second Overtime started after a fifteen-minute intermission, just like the first. The puck nearly deflected off a Gopher skate into Minnesota’s goal, but went a little wide, which kept the game going. Brodt fired a close range shot that bounced off Peters’s helmet. Both teams were exhausted and that lead to more falls. Minnesota used their timeout at 8:54, which gave both teams a rest and got the Bulldogs buzzing again. Crossman had a shot. Then a little later Mrazova made a shot from the left side, which deflected off Peters to the right side of the crease and Stalder whacked it into goal at 11:29. The goal went under review as Stalder hit the puck with a fairly high stick, but the officials decided it was good. The Bulldogs beat the Gophers 2-1, after facing 63 shots and dealing out 41, in a game that lasted 91 minutes and 29 seconds—a new WCHA tournament record.
Later today at 2pm Wisconsin faces off against Minnesota Duluth in the WCHA tournament finals. We’ll see if the Bulldogs can pull off another win or if the Badgers will steamroll them. In any case, the Gophers might be done for this weekend, but they’ll be back in action next week, probably in Duluth, for the first round of the NCAA tournament. The post season isn’t over yet!