DULUTH, Minn.—The Wisconsin women’s hockey team ended its drive for back-to-back national titles Sunday having played one of its best games of the season, battling back from an early deficit and keeping up in an NCAA final against Minnesota that sped along at break-neck pace.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, their best was not as good as that of their opponent, and as the final horn sounded it was Wisconsin who had to watch its Border Battle rivals skate onto the ice as national champions.
The game lived up to its billing as a gritty matchup of the top rivals in college hockey, and with a 4-2 win the Gophers earned their program’s third national title while denying Wisconsin a fifth.
Though they were far from happy with the outcome, the Badgers could see they competed hard in a fight between the sport’s best.
“This was definitely one of the best hockey games we’ve ever been a part of. Those are the two best teams in the country and there’s no doubt about that,” said senior forward Brooke Ammerman, whose career as a Badger came to a disappointing end. “It was fun to play, even though we’re on the wrong side of it.”
After defeating Boston College 6-2 Friday afternoon to advance to Sunday’s final, the Badgers came out with plenty of energy against an equally motivated Minnesota squad. The result was a first period marked by an intense pace, littered with goals and dramatic shifts in momentum.
Sophomore Minnesota forward Amanda Kessel opened scoring with a fantastic individual effort, and senior forward Sarah Erickson added another goal soon after to give the Gophers a 2-0 lead. But the Badgers would not be turned away that easily, storming back with goals from junior defenseman Stefanie McKeough and Ammerman within 1:40 of one another.
Ammerman tied the game at two by poking home a loose puck that came to a rest in the chaotic Gopher crease.
“That was the type of game it was—a game of inches—and, unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that later on,” she said.
Moments after Ammerman’s goal, Gopher penalties gave UW a five-on-three power play and a chance to take the lead. Instead, after Minnesota killed the first penalty, senior forward Emily West broke into the Badger zone shorthanded and was hauled down by a Wisconsin defender.
After officials awarded her a penalty shot, West made a devilish move to beat sophomore UW goaltender Alex Rigsby and score, putting the Gophers up for good.
Erickson stretched the lead with her second goal early in the third period, while junior Minnesota goaltender Noora Raty played up to her world-class capability to preserve the victory. The Gophers survived plenty of Badger scoring opportunities thanks to Raty, whose 42 saves on the night earned her most outstanding player honors.
Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson said his team had nothing to be ashamed of after a 33-win season that ended with a hard fight in the national championship game.
“If they hadn’t played well—if we hadn’t given ourselves an opportunity—that would probably be more disappointing,” Johnson said. “From a coaching standpoint, you’re proud of the effort they put out today, [but] for whatever reason it wasn’t enough.”
“What we saw was both teams threw everything at each other,” he said later, “and at the end of the day one was standing a little bit taller than the other one.”