It took nearly five seasons, but the #Betterdeadthanred swagger is back. The #5 Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team understood the assignment. After taking five of six points from the #1 Wisconsin Badgers in Madison in November, the Badgers came into Ridder Arena this weekend being quoted as looking for revenge. Bulletin board material is not always the best strategy, as the Gophers proved this weekend sweeping the #1 Badgers for the first time since 2016 and taking home 11 of the 12 points up for grabs in the season series between the two teams.
Friday’s game was a methodical defensive battle. Neither team wanted to give any ground to the other lest they take advantage in transition and make their opponent pay. Both Minnesota’ Makayla Pahl and Wisconsin’s Kennedy Blair were great in goal turning away all the shots they faces in the first period. The Gophers finally got on the board first late in the second period when Madeline Wethington made a gorgeous individual play and ripped a wrister past Blair.
It remained 1-0 Minnesota into the third period when a massive penalty call changed the direction of the game. Wisconsin’s Grace Bowlsby and Minnesota’s Amy Potomake collided near the boards with 11:51 left in the third period. As Bowlsby stayed down for a bit—she would return on her next shift, Wisconsin lobbied for the referees to review the play. No penalty was called on the initial contact, but the referees did review the play and decided there was enough contact egregious enough to assess Potomak a five minute major penalty for boarding. Minnesota coach Brad Frost and the Gophers fans were incensed, and it only got worse when Wisconsin’s Daryl Watts scored a power play goal just 19 seconds into the major to tie the game at 1. Minnesota would battle back, regain their composure and kill off the rest of the major, aided by a Badger interference penalty as well.
Both teams traded chances after the end of the penalty, but karma smiled on Minnesota. After a Wisconsin time out they dumped the puck deep in the Minnesota zone. Potomak and Audrey Wethington broke out on a two on one chance and Wethington fed Potomak who broke in and flipped a gorgeous back hand high in the corner of the net over Blair to put the Gophers ahead with 2:34 to play. All Amy Potomak does is score gorgeous goals against the Badgers. She joined the 100 point club with an assist on thr first goal and got point #101 on her goal.
Minnesota would hold off a pulled goalie attack from Wisconsin and would pick up a huge 2-1 win. Pahl would make 40 saves in the win.
One would think that Pahl would get the start on Saturday after her win on Friday, but she was not even dressed for the series finale due to injury or illness. Thus it was up to 5th year senior Lauren Bench to try and earn Minnesota the sweep. If the start to Friday’s game was slow and methodical, well Saturday the two teams decided to try something a little different.
Wisconsin Brette Pettet opened the scoring just four minutes into the game to give the Badgers an early lead. But the Gophers would not wait long to return fire. A minute thirty six later with was Crystalyn Hengler answering for the Gophers on a nice wrist shot from the faceoff-dot after skating in tight to knot the game at one.
It would stay that way until late in the third period where the ping bong ball swings of momentum were crazy. Wisconsin retook the lead with 2:59 left in the period on a goal by Caitlin Schneider. Just 14 seconds later Minnesota answered from freshman Ella Huber.
It's the response for us pic.twitter.com/QdiPBe21Tv— Minnesota Women's Hockey (@GopherWHockey) January 22, 2022
But the Gophers weren’t done. Just another 1:10 later it would be Catie Skaja putting the Gophers up a goal at the break after taking an Abigial Boreen shot off of her body and having it bounce into the net. The Gophers took the lead and all the momentum with them into the locker room.
Minnesota would extend that lead to two goals early in the second period when Taylor Heise found a rebound of a Boreen shot right in front of the net and put the puck past Blair to give Minnesota a 4-2 lead.
It remained that way into the third period when the Badgers cut the lead back to one with 17:40 left on the second of the game by Pettet.
The final 17:40 was up and down with both teams having good chances, but Lauren Bench standing tall and shutting down several great looks by the Badgers. She would finish with 30 saves and earn a great win as the entire Gopher roster piled on her after clinching the sweep.
It is the Gophers first sweep over Wisconsin since 2016 and the first sweep by any team over the Badgers since 2018. Minnesota takes 11 of 12 WCHA points from the Badgers on the season and leads the conference with 46 points, though they have played two more games than the Ohio State Buckeyes who have 43 and the Badgers who have 40. With teams losing games to COVID once again this season, the WCHA has moved to total points percentage to determine the conference title and seeding, so Minnesota technically sits in second place behind the Buckeyes with a .767 points percentage compared to OSU’s .796.
The Buckeyes, oh yes. The WCHA team Minnesota has struggled the most against in the recent past. Well they will be the new #1 team in the nation when the polls come out later this week and they await the arrival of these Gophers for what now will be the biggest conference series of the season for both teams this weekend in Columbus. If Ohio State can take a majority of the points, they will control their own destiny down the stretch with the weaker conference teams remaining on their schedule except for a regular season finishing series against the Badgers. If Minnesota can find a way to at least split if not take a majority of the points, they will have a great shot at trying to get into position to win their first regular season WCHA title since 2018-19. But it will not be easy as the Buckeyes have won five in a row and six of the last 8 games against the Gophers. Can Minnesota take their momentum from this weekend into Columbus, or will it be a let down weekend after the high of sweeping the Badgers? We will need to wait a few days to find out.