Facing the prospect of missing the NCAA women’s hockey tournament for the first time since 2007, the Gophers delivered a stirring weekend of upsets over Ohio State and Wisconsin.
The reward? Another date with Wisconsin, next Saturday in Madison, in the NCAA quarterfinals.
The Gophers learned their destination Sunday night a few hours after knocking Wisconsin from its No. 1-ranked perch with a 3-1 victory over the Badgers in the WCHA tournament championship game.
Taylor Wente, Taylor Williamson and Nicole Schammel gave Minnesota a goal in each period, touching off a wild celebration at Ridder Arena.
An announced crowd of 1,854 watched the Gophers throw their gloves and dive into a pile not far from the goal where Sidney Peters, the tournament MVP, worked much of her magic on the weekend.
“It’s playoffs; it’s do or die,” said Peters, who had 33 saves in the 2-0 win over Ohio State and 31 more against the Badgers. “You’re desperate, and you play with a level of urgency that’s really hard to find throughout the regular season.”
When Connecticut upset Boston College on Saturday in the Hockey East semifinals, the Gophers knew they needed both wins for the WCHA’s automatic bid. Entering the weekend, Minnesota was 0-7-1 combined against Ohio State and Wisconsin.
“I think it shows that we not only can compete with the best, but we are one of the best,” Williamson said.
But after six consecutive Frozen Four appearances, the Gophers (24-10-3) have taken their lumps this season, which left them on the NCAA bubble. All four of their losses against Wisconsin came by one goal.
“I think you could tell they really wanted it, especially at the end of the game,” said Badgers center Abby Roque.
Kristen Campbell, a sophomore transfer from North Dakota, entered Sunday leading the nation with a 1.14 goals-against average. But the Gophers jumped to a lead, 1 minute, 6 seconds into the game, when Wente tipped in an Emily Brown shot.
The Badgers (30-4-2) answered about three minutes later with freshman Delaney Drake’s first college goal, but Williamson put the Gophers back in front at 1:40 of the second period. It was another tipped shot, this one from Olivia Knowles.
“Against Campbell, I kind of feel like you have to take her eyes away or deflect the puck to get it by her,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said.
Schammel’s empty-netter came after a flurry of Badgers chances, with Wente battling along the boards and setting up the goal with a diving pass.
Soon, the Gophers were celebrating their first WCHA tournament title since 2014. The Badgers had won the previous three, depriving Minnesota’s senior class of experiencing that moment until Sunday.
The Badgers wound up with the No. 2 NCAA seed, behind defending champion Clarkson. Minnesota actually finished No. 5 in the PairWise rankings, one spot ahead of Ohio State. But the NCAA works to save airfare, by pitting regional teams against one another in the quarterfinals.
“So proud of our team,” said Frost, who has made the NCAA tournament in all 11 seasons as head coach. “I mean the pressure that these guys were under, going into the weekend — I think it speaks volumes as to who they are as people.”