WCHA Weekend Recap: Jan. 10-11

Three series were on the slate for the WCHA weekend, and while the match-ups were routine, the outcomes were anything but.

The holiday break is over and conference play in the WCHA is back in full swing as nationally-ranked powerhouses Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio State took on their WCHA competitors this weekend in a set of three afternoon series. The only team not in action this weekend was Minnesota Duluth, who hosted last weekend’s Minnesota Cup.

Without further ado, let’s get into this weekend’s action!

Series 1: Minnesota State at #5 Ohio State

Minnesota State came into this series off a third place finish at the Minnesota Cup in 3-on-3 overtime. The Mavericks, who currently sit towards the bottom of WCHA rankings, in sixth place, played the Ohio State Buckeyes earlier this season in Mankato and notched both extra points after forcing overtime in both contests. This time around, though, a dominant Ohio State team, led by coach Nadine Muzzerall, was leaving no survivors.

The Buckeyes trounced Minnesota State on Friday night by a score of 6-0, with goaltender Andrea Brändli securing her first shutout of the 2019-2020 season. Six different Buckeyes scored for Ohio State. After the third goal, off the stick of Liz Schepers, Calla Frank came into the net to relieve sophomore goaltender Abigail Levy. The goaltending change wasn’t enough to change the momentum of the game, and the Buckeyes kept piling on goals to an eventual 6-0 rout. Among the scorers for Ohio State were Lisa Bruno, Tatum Skaggs, Liz Schepers, Rebecca Freiburger, Gabby Rosenthal, and a powerplay tally from superstar Emma Maltais to seal the deal.

There must have been something in the Minnesota State locker room after that loss, though, because the Mavericks came out strong on Saturday. Brändli got the start again for the Buckeyes, but Minnesota State head coach John Harrington swapped out Abigail Levy for rookie Calla Frank, who’s currently splitting the load with Levy. Nonetheless, the Mavericks jumped out to an early lead off a tally from Sofia Poinar, but an incredible shorthanded goal by — who else — Emma Maltais got the Buckeyes back in the game.

Eleven different scorers would tally goals in the game, with the only player to notch two being Ohio State freshman Jenn Gardiner. For a short time in the second period, it looked as though Minnesota State might be making a comeback — they even narrowed the goal differential to 4-3. Ultimately, the Mavericks weren’t able to shift the momentum after Rosenthal’s early third period goal. The Buckeyes took the second game of the series 8-4, and split the season series with the Mavericks.

Series 2: #1 Wisconsin at Bemidji State

Bemidji State, who sits 7 points out of third place in the WCHA, seemed like an easy opponent for the Badgers to take on. However, things didn’t exactly go according to plan for Wisconsin this weekend, as they split the series with the Beavers after a regulation loss on Saturday.

The two teams traded goals into the third period on Friday, with tallies from Wisconsin/Team Canada forward Sophie Shirley and her international competitor Natalie Buchbinder matched by Bemidji’s Kara Werth and Haley Mack. In the end, though, a late second shot from Brette Pettet just snuck past Beavers netminder Lauren Bench to seal the deal for the Badgers, 3-2.

Saturday’s game was a little bit different, with each team scoring consecutive goals in respective periods. The first was all Bemidji State, with the Beavers firing ten shots on net, only eight of which were saved by Wisconsin veteran and reigning national champion Kristen Campbell. The teams traded roles in the second, with the Badgers slipping two past Lauren Bench for the equalizer. At the period’s end, Clair DeGeorge (an Alaska native who was invited to the 2019 Team USA winter camp) put the puck in the back of the net one more time for Bemidji State to secure the win.

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Though the game winner was scored in the second, the third period was still an interesting one. The Badgers threw everything they had on Bench, but she didn’t budge, saving all 17 shots that Wisconsin fired her way. Meanwhile, the momentum of the second period had faded for the Beavers, who only managed three (!!) shots on net the entire period. Those 17 shots weren’t quite enough for the Badgers to make the comeback, and they ended up splitting the series with a team still fighting for its first NCAA tournament bid.

Series 3: #2 Minnesota at St. Cloud State

The first period of Friday’s game between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the St. Cloud State Huskies was a quiet one, with both teams totaling ten or fewer shots on goal. Goaltenders Sydney Scobee (Minnesota) and Emma Polusny (St. Cloud State) fared well for the first period, and for much of the game, with Polusny finishing the match-up with 34 saves and Scobee with 20.

The second period was when things started to heat up, with St. Cloud State opening the scoring with their only goal of the game from senior forward Hallie Theodosopoulos. Who else would score for Minnesota but star forwards Taylor Heise and Madeline Wethington, both on Team USA’s radar as the 2020 Women’s World Championship approaches. Catie Skaja would bring the score to 3-1, and senior Katie Robinson would pot her first goal of the season before the game’s end. Minnesota won handily by a score of 4-1.

Of course, the weekend wasn’t over until #2 Minnesota says it’s over, and they weren’t finished with the Huskies after Friday’s outing. Scoring three unanswered goals in the first period, the Gophers cruised to an easy victory over St. Cloud State, with Heise and Wethington adding another tally to their personal scoresheets, and senior forward Alex Woken sending another goal to the back of the net.

Minnesota took the series sweep and the season sweep.