Heading into the third period with a 3-2 lead, the Wisconsin Badgers looked like they had a very real chance of taking down the No.1 ranked Minnesota Gophers in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
However, three unanswered goals in the final frame by the Gophers have them moving on to play for a third consecutive national championship, while UW will head back home to Madison.
Appearing in its seventh Frozen Four, Wisconsin jumped out to the lead on a goal by redshirt junior forward Brittany Ammerman with under two minutes remaining in the first period.
The Badgers as a team outshot Minnesota 16-7 in the first frame.
“I was leaving the ice thinking we should have been up 3-0,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “We had good opportunities and came out with good energy. We had them on their heels a bit, but we needed to capitalize.”
But the Gophers responded quickly, as senior forward Kelly Terry and sophomore forward Maryanne Menefee scored a pair of goals about 100 seconds apart early in the second period to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead.
Despite this swing in momentum, UW answered back with a couple goals of their own late in the period.
Junior forward Katy Josephs found the back of the net to tie the game at 2-2, followed by a goal courtesy of junior forward Karley Sylvester with just over 30 seconds left in the second frame to give Wisconsin a 3-2 lead heading into the second intermission.
“In the first couple of minutes of the second period, it shifted back to their favor with a goal and a penalty on the play,” Johnson said. “But we responded in the last seven or eight minutes. We started to create some opportunities. Josephs gets a nice goal to make it 2-2 and Karley scores off the faceoff and now we go into the locker room 3-2.”
After tying the game back up early in the third period, the Gophers retook the lead for good on a goal by junior forward Rachael Bona.
Minnesota tacked on an insurance goal with under three minutes left in the game to secure their fifth win over the Badgers on the season.
Despite holding a 37-28 advantage over the Gophers in shots on goal, Wisconsin was unable to generate much offense in the final frame.
“We were happy with our offensive production,” Ammerman said. “Obviously it wasn't enough. We put our hearts out there, and we just couldn't get bounces our way.”
The loss marks the end of the collegiate careers of five UW seniors: goaltender Alex Rigsby, forward Madison Packer, defenseman Natalie Berg, defenseman Stefanie McKeough and goaltender Ilana Friedman.
Packer tallied an assist and Rigsby recorded 23 saves in the final game as Badgers.
Rigsby will leave UW as arguably the best netminder in program history. She ends her career at Wisconsin as the school’s all-time leader in wins (100), saves (3,126) and save percentage (.941).
For the UW seniors, losing to the Gophers was an especially heartbreaking way to end their collegiate careers.
They leave Wisconsin having lost their last 11 games against their biggest rival, and have to deal with the pain of letting the opportunity to play for a national title slip away in the final period.
“It was a game with momentum swings,” Johnson said. “We saw them both ways. I thought both teams battled hard. I thought we played a solid game. But it was going to come down to who was going to make a play.”