Minnesota and Wisconsin have had a storybook rivalry since the beginning, and this weekend they added another exciting chapter. On Saturday, the Gophers stunned as they shut out the team that has been ranked No. 1 for the entire season. Wisconsin did not let that get in their heads; they came back on Sunday to win 8-2.
A Lot on the Line
It’s too early in the season to talk about deciding games, but this series between Minnesota and Wisconsin carried a lot of meaning. The last time the Gophers and Badgers faced each other, Minnesota knocked Wisconsin out of last year’s NCAA playoffs in the semifinals. Since then, Wisconsin has spent the entire season at the top of rankings, with Minnesota always close behind at No. 2. This weekend had the potential to shake up the polls, but with a split weekend, it looks as though top two teams will remain where they have been the entire season.
Offense....and Lack Thereof
Both games left many with a feeling of “What happened?” No. 1 Wisconsin getting shut out at home felt uncharacteristic. Even more uncharacteristic was the Gophers giving up eight goals to lose 8-2, the most goals they’ve allowed in a game since 1999. Offense on the part of one team, and lack thereof on the the other, is the major story of the weekend.
On Saturday, Kate Schipper of the Gophers gave Minnesota all the momentum when she opened scoring late in the second period. Schipper’s goal came from Dani Cameranesi and Kelly Pannek on the power play, further demonstrating just how powerful that second in the nation power play is for Minnesota. Both teams had many chances — the Badgers managed to outshoot the Gophers 37-34 — but Schipper was the only player from either team to break through offensively. She picked up a second goal when she found the empty net toward the end of the game.
While Saturday’s game was an offensive drought, Sunday’s game was an explosion. Only 3:13 into the first period, Sarah Nurse opened up scoring for the Badgers. Wisconsin was already flying at this point, as they had the only shots on goal in the entire game. The Gophers were clearly already missing Cameranesi, who was out after suffering a lower body injury the day before. However, it wasn’t long before Minnesota found their first shot of the game, which also happened to be their first goal. Caitlin Reilly beat Ann-Renée Desbiens a little over six minutes into the period, which led many to think the game would be a lot of even matched back-and-forth action.
This was not the case. Once the offensive fire was lit under the Badgers, it never burned out. Not long after the Reilly goal, Wisconsin scored three in the span of about minute and a half with goals from Sydney McKibbon, Baylee Wellhausen, and Nurse. Nurse’s goal was particularly incredible, considering she managed to draw a penalty as she scored. Before the end of the period, Megan Wolfe would score for the Gophers to make it a six-goal opening period.
The second period opened with a 10-minute delay after workers got a drill bit stuck in the ice near one of the goals. It took a wrench, shop vac, drill, and a blow torch to eventually get it out. Once that ordeal was finished, Nurse completed her hat trick less than two minutes into the period. It was the first hat trick a Badgers player had ever scored against the Gophers. Minnesota managed to drum up a few offensive chances but never capitalized, with Desbiens denying Pannek and Sydney Baldwin.
The final period found a new goaltender in net for the Gophers, Serena D’Angelo, and continued offense from the Badgers. Despite appearing gassed, the Gophers continued to generate chances, with Desbiens making big saves on shots by Reilly and Taylor Williamson. However, the Gophers never broke through. The game ended with an 8-2 win for Wisconsin after late goals by Alexis Mauermann and Annie Pankowski.
What does this mean for the top two teams in the NCAA? Mostly, it demonstrates that they are both still the best of the best. Minnesota became just the second team this season to beat Wisconsin in regulation, and the Badgers became the first in a long time to beat the Gophers by such a large margin.
The next time these two teams meet is President’s Day weekend in February. Mark those dates on the calendar, as the outcome of that series is likely to have major implications for WCHA Final Face-Off seeding. Until then, expect Wisconsin and Minnesota to remain at the top of the rankings week after week.