Saturday was the WCHA Final Face-Off semifinals at Ridder Arena. Whoever won these games had the chance to earn a conference title and an auto bid into the NCAA national tournament. Depending on how the other three conference tournaments shook out, this was Minnesota’s only path to another Frozen Four and certainly the only way Bemidji could possibly attend. However, that would have meant Bemidji, ranked fourth in the WCHA had to get past first seed Wisconsin and third ranked Minnesota had to finally beat second ranked Ohio State—a task neither team had succeeded this season.
Wisconsin v Bemidji State
As soon as the puck dropped Wisconsin was on the attack, which soon netted them results. Abby Roque made a pass from behind the goal line on the left side and Baylee Wellhausen banged the puck home just 41 seconds into the game. Mikaela Gardner had the second assist on this pretty goal. The period continued to be Badger dominated and they nearly scored a second time when the puck slid behind Bemidji goaltender Kerigan Dowhy before harmlessly sliding out of the crease.
Wellhausen had a great chance down the right side. Then Jacqueline Kaasa had a breakaway down the left side and made a lateral pass to Bailey Wright for the shot, which went wide. Haley Mack’s shot halfway through the period was when the Beavers finally recorded their first official shot. Wisconsin had another extended flurry and Brette Pettet nearly whacked the puck out of the air into goal, but the play was whistled off. Lauren Williams had a shot from above the right circle that Dowhy caught and Dowhy went on to deflect a Caitlin Schneider shot off her shoulder.
Gardner took a delayed hooking penalty at 17:43 that briefly had Dowhy off the ice. The Beavers came alive during their power play and racked up most of their shots in the period shelling Kristen Campbell while they had the skater advantage. Twice they tried to jam the puck into goal on Campbell’s stick side and the second attempt resulted in a scuffle that sent Abby Halluska and Roque to the box for roughing at 18:47. 5-on-4 play continued as the Beavers cycled the puck until Emma Terres tied the game from the right side at 19:26. Emily Bergland and Paige Beebe assisted on this power play goal.
The Beavers certainly tried to instill some fear in the Badgers from the moment second period started. Wright’s shot just went wide and a little later Halluska threw the puck at Campbell. Maddie Rowe’s point blank shot on Dowhy was denied and then Williams’s wraparound attempt hit Campbell’s shoulder. Wellhausen flew down the right side and her shot was blocked before Natalie Buchbinder was denied on the rebound as well. Wisconsin earned a too many players on the ice penalty, which Claudia Kepler served at 10:57.
Wellhausen earned her second of the night at 11:06 by charging along the right side then swooping past the crease. Roque had the lone assist on this shorthanded goal. Beebe earned a cross-checking penalty, but it was delayed long enough for Campbell to be pulled and a mess to happened at Bemidji’s crease where the puck might have crossed the goal line. Play went under review and it was decided that no goal had happened, so the penalty kicked in at 18:19 and harmlessly expired in the beginning of third period.
Alexis Mauermann’s right side shot kicked off a Wisconsin flurry third period. Roque’s shot from the right circle lasered itself straight into Dowhy’s out stretched glove. Halfway through the period Rowe got the puck to Maddie Rolfes and she carried it up the right side before burying it in the back of the net at 10:45. Bergland went for tripping Mauermann at 11:51 and while Alexis Joyce seemed ready to start something, nothing ultimately happened and the penalty was killed.
Kepler then went for the puck, but accidentally tripped Joyce instead at 16:53. Bemidji used their timeout at 17:24 and then pulled Dowhy for the extra skater, but still couldn’t convert. Instead, the Beavers allowed Wellhausen into their zone unattended with the puck and she completed her hat trick unassisted with an empty netter at 19:30. Wisconsin won 4-1 and a chance at another WCHA title, while Bemidji’s season is over.
Minnesota v Ohio State
While the previous game had been all about speed and technical skill, this game focused more on the raw physicality of the sport. Specifically, bodies started hitting the ice and boards before Ohio State recorded the first shot of the game less than a minute in and they never stopped, however, there was not a single penalty in the game. A Buckeye crashed into Sidney Peters and then the net knocking it off its moorings with the puck following close behind at 1:29 of the first. While Ohio State celebrated like it was a goal, the officials declared it to be no goal. Then Tatum Skaggs had a breakaway shot, which hit the pipe.
Emily Brown took down Emma Maltais in the corner with the ref standing right in front of her before Taylor Williamson flew down the left side and had her shot botched by the defense. Multiple messes happened around Minnesota’s net and Peters continued fending off Buckeye attacks, as they had more and better chances than the Gophers, outshooting them 10-6 in the first period. Still, when first intermission rolled around the game was scoreless.
Minnesota looked much better in the second. Taylor Wente flew down the right side and shot before Grace Zumwinkle zipped it, batted the puck as well, and sunk it into goal on the right side at 2:26. Olivia Knowles had the second assist. Zumwinkle nearly scored again off a tic-tac-toe pass with Nicole Schammel. Then Sydney Baldwin’s shot lead to a brief scramble at the crease before Alex Woken smacked Dani Sadek into the boards.
Schammel had a wraparound attempt and Zumwinkle’s backdoor attempt off the rebound was also denied by goaltender Amanda Zeglen. A sliding Sadek kept Cara Piazza from shooting. Buckeyes best chance of the period came when they caused an absolute mess at Peters’s crease, which had her rolling and flailing to keep the puck out before Zumwinkle nearly scored on a flyby.
To kick off third period Peters deflected Skaggs’s shot with the tip of her glove. Piazza and Maddy Field collided and Field was slow to get back up. Players were shoving after a whistle and then there was a period of end to end puck chasing with a lot of uncalled penalties committed by both sides. Wente nearly scored from the crease as the puck bounced past and then had an excellent high slot shot. Then Badlwin and Katie Robinson had solid point shots, which Zeglen also denied.
Wente nearly tipped in a Zumwinkle shot. Then Patti Marshall hauled down Sadek before they, along with another Gophers, crashed into Minnesota’s net knocking it off its moorings. There was a mess at Minnesota’s crease with many Gophers down and repeated Buckeye shots before a hand pass ultimately ended the play. Somehow Maltais’s point blank shot went wide. Then Ohio State pulled their goalie at 17:59 for the extra skater. It took two attempts, but Zumwinkle made her empty netter from the right side at 19:00 unassisted, which took the pressure off Minnesota.
A minute later the Gophers won 2-0, completing Peters’s shutout, and earning themselves at least one more game as they face down Wisconsin in the tournament final. Thanks to the way the other conference tournaments shook out, going forward if they lose one game, Minnesota’s season is over, which means they’ve got beat Wisconsin. As for Ohio State, they’ll probably be cheering for Minnesota in the WCHA championship, as it means they’ll face a team out east instead of Wisconsin next weekend if Minnesota wins.