The Gophers came out slow against Wisconsin in Sunday’s WCHA championship game, and that turned costly.
Next up, the NCAA women’s hockey tournament, where a poor start could result in the end of their season.
The second-ranked Badgers beat the top-ranked Gophers 3-1 before an announced 2,452 at Ridder Arena. Wisconsin won the WCHA Final Faceoff for the fourth time in five years after losing last year to Minnesota by the same score.
“Losing at your home rink to any team isn’t fun, to see them hold the trophy,” Gophers captain Kelly Pannek said. “So for sure, for me personally at least, I want to want to win next week and keep going.”
Hours later, the Gophers (30-5-1) learned they were named the No. 2 overall seed for the eight-team NCAA tournament, with a game against Princeton at 4 p.m. Saturday at Ridder. It’s a rematch of the 2016 NCAA tournament quarterfinals, when the Gophers won 6-2 on their way to their seventh and most recent national championship.
Wisconsin (32-4-2) earned the No. 1 seed and will play host to Syracuse. The other quarterfinals are third-seeded Northeastern playing host to Cornell — with the winner of that game getting the Gophers-Princeton winner in the Frozen Four in Hamden, Conn. — and fourth-seeded Clarkson playing host to Boston College.
With their WCHA title, the Badgers improved to 3-2 against the Gophers this season. If they are to meet one more time, it will be in the national championship game March 24.
Sunday, the Gophers had only four shots on goal in the first period, when they fell behind on Caitlin Schneider’s goal 8 minutes, 11 seconds in. Wisconsin made it 2-0 early in the second period on a goal from freshman Britta Curl.
“I just thought it was our first period. I mean, right from the get-go they were up on their toes and applying pressure, and taking away our time and space,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said. “And we weren’t reciprocating that.”
Later in the second, Gophers sophomore Grace Zumwinkle scored a power-play goal on a one-timer off a pass from Emily Brown, Zumwinkle’s 25th goal of the season. But that was the lone blemish for Kristen Campbell, who made 20 saves. With Gophers goalie Sydney Scobee (22 saves) pulled, Annie Pankowski scored an empty-netter.
“You know what you’re going to get when we play Minnesota. I knew it was going to be a good game, you knew it was going to be generally, in most the games, it’s going to be tight,” longtime Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said. “It really comes down to one team making a play, and one more play than the other team makes.”
Jack Warrick is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.