MADISON, WIS. – After six consecutive Frozen Four appearances, the Gophers will be bystanders, not participants, next weekend when the premier event in women’s college hockey returns to Ridder Arena.
“It’s going to hurt having it at our place next week; it’s been a great run,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said following a 4-0 NCAA quarterfinal loss to Wisconsin on Saturday.
The Badgers dominated the afternoon, outshooting the Gophers 39-12, and basically sealed the win with two second-period goals 16 seconds apart from Abby Roque.
But this hardly looked like the end of a Minnesota dynasty, as the Badgers celebrated their fifth consecutive Frozen Four trip before a sellout crowd of 2,423 at LaBahn Arena.
The Gophers (24-11-3) spent the season without U.S. Olympian Kelly Pannek and two sisters — Sarah and Amy Potomak — who missed the cut for the Canadian Olympic team. All three will play for Minnesota next season, along with this year’s leading scorer, freshman Grace Zumwinkle.
Frost was hesitant to look ahead, saying each season is different.
“We’ll have a strong team next year,” he said. “So will Wisconsin, so will Ohio state, so go down the list.”
The Frozen Four semifinals Friday will pit Ohio State against defending NCAA champion Clarkson, and Wisconsin against Colgate.
The Badgers (31-4-2) spent much of the season ranked No. 1, despite missing Emily Clark, who played for Team Canada, and Annie Pankowski, who missed the cut for Team USA. Both will return to Wisconsin next season.
Minnesota had defeated Wisconsin four times in the NCAA semifinals over the previous six years, but this time it was the Badgers’ turn to end the Gophers season.
“We probably played our best game of the year,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said.
The Gophers ran out of magic. They nearly missed the eight-team NCAA tournament but pulled off upsets last weekend at Ridder Arena against Ohio State and Wisconsin to win the WCHA tourney, claiming the conference’s automatic bid.
Last Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Gophers knocked the Badgers down to the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Badgers went 5-1 against Minnesota this season, with four of those wins by one goal, and finished 17-0 overall at home.
“Obviously, last Sunday we weren’t happy with the loss [to the Gophers], and I think that fueled us today,” said Badgers sophomore goalie Kristen Campbell, who notched her 12th shutout of the season.
The Gophers actually outshot Wisconsin 5-4 until the middle of the first period, when the Badgers got a rebound goal from Minnetonka native Presley Norby.
“The three first goals were all turnovers — I mean, it just killed us,” Frost said.
Roque made two second-period turnovers sting when she hit the upper left corner twice — first with a backhand shot, then with a wrist shot — on the same shift, six minutes into the second period.
“They really kind of got their knife in us at that point,” said Peters, a senior who stopped 64 of 65 shots last weekend to earn MVP honors in the WCHA tournament.
The Badgers outshot Minnesota 15-1 in the third period, getting a late power-play goal from Claudia Kepler.
“Really disappointed about the outcome, and please don’t think we’re happy about it,” Frost said. “But it’s been a really fun team to coach. To be able to hang a banner and to win a [WCHA tournament] championship last weekend with our backs against the wall, that was kind of the crowning moment for our team this year.”
Frost’s teams won four NCAA titles in five years, the last one coming in 2016.
Next weekend, while the Gophers start retooling for next season, Wisconsin will try for its first NCAA crown since 2011.