The Minnesota Gophers run with several fifth year seniors to try and get them an NCAA title before they graduated ran into one final brick wall on Friday night in Duluth. After giving up a pair of goals to Wisconsin in just 53 seconds in the third period, Minnesota used an extra attacker goal with 1:11 left in regulation to force overtime. Despite multiple chances in the extra period the Gophers just could not find the back to the net and with 3:13 left in overtime Wisconsin’s Caroline Harvey put a wrist shot past Gopher goalie Skyler Vetter for the game winning goal. The Badgers move on to play for a NCAA title on Sunday, and the Gophers season comes to a crushing end.
Minnesota came out and out initial pressure on the Badgers to start the game and kept ramping it up. The Gophers top line got the first two shots on goal about two minutes into the period and Badger goalie Cami Kronish covered up a shot and forced a faceoff. Gopher coach Brad Frost kept his top line out on the ice for an extended shift and it would pay off as after Abigail Boreen just missed on a great look the puck would bounce back to the point where Emily Oden would rip one wide. But it took a perfect bounce off the back boards and right to Gopher captain Taylor Heise who put a wrist shot over Kronish’s shoulder and put the Gophers ahead 1-0. The Birthday girl got her first present of the night.
TALK TO EM' CAPT! 〽️ @taylorheise9 strikes first.— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 17, 2023
ESPN+#WFrozenFour x @GopherWHockey pic.twitter.com/32Kash0abv
Wisconsin would get their first pair of good looks a few minutes later on back to back shots by Laia Edwards and Britta Curl but Vetter made a pair of tough saves. The Badgers would get the first power play chance of the game with just over eight minutes left in the period but the Gophers would do a great job on the kill and not allow the Badgers to get a single shot on goal. Both teams had a few more chances the rest of the period, but nothing too threatening and the teams would head to the locker room with Minnesota still leading 1-0 and with a 9-6 shot on goal edge.
Wisconsin came out right from the opening puck drop in the second period and really put pressure on the Gophers. They had eight consecutive shots on goal in the first few minutes of the period, but Vetter made several great saves and got a lot of help from the defense in front of her clearing pucks to the boards. They would withstand that attack and more.
The Badgers got a power play 6:31 into the period when Grace Zumwinkle crashed into Kronish as she tried to beat out a puck, but wouldn’t get a shot on goal as Minnesota stole the puck and went in on a 2-0 shorthanded breakaway but Heise could not put away the shot. She was tripped and the rest of the power play was cancelled out. Both teams had good 4x4 looks but again the goalies reigned supreme.
Minnesota got their first true power play with 3:52 left in the period when Abbey Murphy was literally tackled by Jessie Compher, but other than one look from Murphy didn’t get anything going.
Wisconsin had one last flourish as the period ended after a Lacy Eden shot was stopped by Vetter and the rebound popped out in front of the empty Gopher net, but Abigail Boreen got to the puck first and cleared it down the ice for an icing with just seconds left in the period. The Badgers would outshoot the Gophers 17-6 in the second, but nobody could record a goal and Minnesota still took a 1-0 lead into the second intermission.
The third period started out much like the second. Wisconsin put on tons of pressure but the Gopher defense withstood the challenge. Minnesota thought for a fe seconds that they had taken a 2-0 lead as Zumwinkle tipped in a shot from the point and the goal horn went off. Unfortunately for the Gophers the refs conferenced and determined that Zumwinkle had tipped the shot with a high stick and the goal was disallowed 6:19 into the period.
Then the red wave finally broke through the Gopher dam. Just 13 seconds later Edwards would strike first for the Badgers after WI won a draw in the Gopher zone and she skated in and in front of Vetter and put a backhand behind her to tie the game at 1.
AHHHHHH!!! BADGERS!!!!— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 18, 2023
ESPN+ #WFrozenFour x @BadgerWHockey pic.twitter.com/jlB9GOYKKp
Unfortunately for Minnesota, the momentum kept rolling for the Badgers. Just 53 seconds later The Badgers would make it 2-1 after A Boreen shot was blocked by the Badgers and they came into the Gopher zone on a two-on-one. Maddi Wheeler fed fifth year senior Sophie Shirley who was on the last Wisconsin NCAA Championship team in 2019 and she put it over Vetter’s shoulder to give the Badgers the lead.
BACK-TO-BACK!!!!— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 18, 2023
ESPN+ #WFrozenFour x @BadgerWHockey pic.twitter.com/J60GlUFSqh
Minnesota gradually applied more pressure as the period went on but Kronish was fantastic for Wisconsin. She kept everything out of the net. The Gophers would pull Vetter with 1:30 left in regulation. The Gophers gained control of the puck and Nelli Laitinen ripped a shot from the point that went wide. The puck bounced to Heise whose shot was blocked by Wheeler. Then the puck came out to Madeline Wethington at the left point. She rifled a slap shot that flew past a crowd in front of the Badger net and bounced off of Badger defenseman Nicole LaMantia and into the goal with 1:11 left in regulation and the game was tied at 2.
TIE BALL GAME pic.twitter.com/z1if4jXIbs— Minnesota Women's Hockey (@GopherWHockey) March 18, 2023
A late Gopher turnover gave Wisconsin one last chance as time expired but Boreen blocked one shot as Casey O’Brien’s final attempt went wide. The teams would need extra time to determine a winner.
Overtime was absolutely insane. Both teams has spectacular chances but both Vetter and Kronish made save after save when it counted. Until they didn’t.
With just over three minutes left in OT Minnesota’s Ella Huber tried to carry the puck out of her zone. She was bumped off of it along the boards and the Badgers brought it back in the Gopher zone. After some fighting along the boards and behind the net the puck was won by Jesse Compher and she fed a pass across the slot to Badger freshman defender Caroline Harvey. Harvey took the puck to the left circle and ripped a rising wrist shot over Vetter’s shoulder to give the Badgers a 3-2 win.
BADGERS WIN! BADGERS ARE GOING TO THE NATTY!!!— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 18, 2023
ESPN+ #WFrozenFour x @BadgerWHockey pic.twitter.com/xSbM2i9kHZ
Vetter would make 35 saves in the loss. Kronish would make 37 to get the win. The badgers advance to play Ohio State for the NCAA Championship on Sunday Afternoon. The Buckeyes dominated Northeastern 3-0 in the earlier semifinal to set up an All-WCHA Championship game for the 7th time in 21 NCAA Tournaments. Either the Buckeyes will win NCAA title #2 and go back to back, or Wisconsin will win NCAA Championship #7 and break a tie with the Gophers for the most in women’s ice hockey history.
Minnesota will be forced to say good bye to several of their stars who have raised the program back up to the heights they had in the 2010’s. Taylor Heise, Abigail Boreen, Catie Skaja, Grace Zumwinkle, Gracie Ostertag, Savannah Norcross, Crystalyn Hengler and Emily Oden all depart after amazing Gopher careers. They will be sorely missed next season as Minnesota will need to try and reload a vast majority of their offense. It was a pleasure to watch them play.