The Minnesota Golden Gophers needed two wins against teams they had not defeated all season to not miss out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. Well, they did it. The Gophers defeated the #1 Wisconsin Badgers 3-1 at Ridder Arena to win the WCHA Final Faceoff title for the first time since 2014 and continue an eleven year streak of competing in the NCAA Tournament. For their efforts the Gophers get a rematch against the Badgers in Madison next Saturday afternoon for a chance to come back to Ridder Arena for the NCAA Frozen Four.
The Gophers did not waste any time jumping on the Badgers. Freshman forward Taylor Wente tipped a shot from the point from freshman defender Emily Brown past Wisconsin goalie Kristin Campbell just 1:06 into the game. It was the fastest goal the Gophers have scored all season. The Badgers would not waste any time coming back however. Freshman Delaney Drake would score her first collegiate goal just 3:15 later and the teams would head to the locker room tied at one after a period.
Once again, the Gophers would jump out early on Wisconsin. This time it was junior Taylor Williamson who would tip in a shot from defender Olivia Knowles past Campbell to put the Gophers ahead 2-1 just 1:40 into the second period. The Badgers would pressure the Gopher defense and goalie Sidney Peters by outshooting Minnesota 14-6 in the second period, but Peters did not break. Minnesota would take the 2-1 lead to the locker room.
Minnesota nearly struck against early but Alex Woken could not corral a perfect pass in front of the Badger net. Wisconsin would once again pressure Peters and outshoot the Gophers 10-6 in the third, but Peters was up to the task. Nicole Schemmel would score an empty net goal for Minnesota with 14 seconds left in the game, and the party was on. Peters was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament for stopping 64 of 65 shots she faced against the Buckeyes and Badgers. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Williamson, Sydney Baldwin, and Grace Zumwinkle.
Minnesota won their first WCHA Final Faceoff title since 2014 and played their way into the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota will keep its streak alive of playing in every since NCAA Tournament since 2008 and still have just missed one tournament since the NCAA began governing women’s college hockey in 2001.
Despite Wisconsin being the #2 overall seed, and the Gophers moving up to #5 in the Pairwise with the tournament win, the two teams will once again face each other in the NCAA Quarterfinals next Saturday in Madison. Unfortunately for fans of the two schools, the NCAA Women’s Hockey tournament only ranks the top four teams and then creates the brackets primarily based on proximity. The exact clause that applies here from the NCAA Women’s Hockey Championship Manual is below:
The top four teams according to the selection criteria will be seeded 1-4 at the time of the selection call. The remaining four teams will be placed in the bracket based upon relative strength as long as these pairings do not result in additional flights.
The bolded above is the key. Minneapolis is less than
500 400-miles from Madison, which is the NCAA’s threshold for when a flight is required, thus the Gophers will bus to Madison and face the Badgers for the sixth time in the NCAA Quarterfinals. If the brackets were assigned solely by seed Wisconsin would be hosting the seventh seed Northeastern Huskies, and the Gophers would be flying to Boston to face the fourth seed Boston College Eagles. Instead Northeastern will bus to third seeded Colgate, and BC will host the third WCHA team in the bracket, the sixth seeded Ohio State Buckeyes.
So the Gophers will need to try and beat their arch rival two games in a row a weekend apart. But, the Gophers will have the mental edge in the game. They may not admit it, but you can guarantee the fact that Minnesota has eliminated Wisconsin from the NCAA Tournament three of the last four seasons will be in all of the Badgers heads come Saturday. Meanwhile, 48 hours ago it didn’t even look like Minnesota would be in the NCAA Tournament, so they can play loose and relaxed with no pressure of expectations. If the Gophers lose—they should have. Wisconsin is the better team this season. But, if the Gophers win, well it means coming back home and playing in the NCAA Frozen Four on their home ice—where they just won their two biggest games of the year. As they showed again this weekend, you don’t dare count the Gophers out in March unless you want to be proven wrong and wrong again.
We will have a full preview of the Gophers game at Wisconsin on Saturday at 2:00 PM later this week.