The big series in women’s hockey over the weekend pitted the no. 1-ranked Wisconsin Badgers against the no. 2-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers. In the first Border Battle series split since 2011, the two teams saw the best of what each offer and what has, thus far, set them above other teams in the conference.
In the first match at Madison’s La Bahn Arena, both teams played a tight defensive game, not offering much for high-danger opportunities.
Following a four-game absence, Badger netminder Ann-Renee Desbiens returned for Wisconsin and was tested early. The dangerous top line for the Gophers — Dani Cameranesi, Kelly Pannek and Sarah Potomak — were once again able to get buzzing and create opportunities.
Desbiens would wind up stopping 31 of 32 Gopher shots, but it wouldn’t be enough with Sidney Peters putting up a 37-save shutout in the opposing net. The lone puck getting past Desbiens was a power-play goal from Kate Schipper, who has been heating up and providing reliable secondary scoring.
It took Schipper until Oct. 28 to grab her first goal of the season, but since then she has put up four goals and four assists in nine games. She’d eventually add an empty-net marker to seal the Gophers’ 2-0 victory.
“I’m really impressed with our team,” said Gopher coach Brad Frost. “They showed incredible guts out there. It was fun to see them rise to the occasion. Certainly, Wisconsin is the best team we’ve played this year, so it was fun to see.
“It felt like our team has been playing well, but to see them take it up another notch here tonight was just great. I’m really proud of our kids’ effort. They enjoyed the moment. Sid Peters played great with her first shutout against Wisconsin, and we did enough to seal the win there. I’m really happy about it.”
However, it wasn’t all good news in victory for Minnesota. Cameranesi, the nation’s leading scorer, was injured in the game. She would not return for Sunday’s rematch. Prior to leaving the game, she assisted on Schipper’s first goal. It was a milestone goal marking Cameranesi’s 200th career point and Schipper’s 100th career point. Cameranesi is just the eighth player in program history to hit 200.
In the second game, everything was turned on its head. Wisconsin turned the contest into a statement game by responding to Saturday’s loss in a big way. Errors in the neutral zone and sloppy zone exits would cost the Gophers repeatedly as the Badgers unleashed their top forwards.
12 Badger skaters would record a point in the 8-2 trouncing, led by senior Sarah Nurse, who recorded a hat trick and four points on the afternoon. While it was Nurse’s second hat trick of the season, it was the first time someone has scored a hat trick against the Gophers in more than six years.
It was an ugly game for Minnesota and though the Badger offense is good — freshmen Presley Norby and Abby Roque were standouts, as was Annie Pankowski, who has rediscovered her offensive touch — but it was frequently about capitalizing on Gopher lapses.
— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerWHockey) December 4, 2016
The second period was a low-shooting affair, played largely in transition, but the Badgers still made it sting. They notched two and had the game out of reach by the start of the third. Freshman Serena D’Angelo came in for the final frame, allowing two more on 11 shots.
Though chalking it up to nothing but errors undercuts the fact that this was a massive victory for Wisconsin. It may explain the size of the victory, but grabbing the three conference points was a statement for Wisconsin full of records Minnesota would rather not see.
It was the most goals the Badgers have scored against a ranked opponent and the most goals they’ve ever scored against the Gophers. It was also their widest margin of victory ever against Minnesota. In fact, the Gophers haven’t given up that many goals since a Nov. 7, 1999 game against Harvard.
— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerWHockey) December 5, 2016
“There’s losing hockey games, and then there’s getting your butt kicked,” said Frost. “That’s exactly what happened tonight.”
The upset on Saturday had the potential to shake up the national rankings, where the Badgers and Gophers have been fixtures at one and two, respectively, since the first preseason poll. The end result is nothing changed, and it makes sense.
— Minnesota Women's Hockey (@GopherWHockey) December 6, 2016
The first game was ostensibly 1-0 and could have broken either way. The Gophers played well and earned the win, but a tight defensive contest doesn’t break the same way every night.
“In [Saturday’s] game, it was a power-play goal and they were able to capitalize in the second period,” Badger head coach Mark Johnson said Saturday. “Our defenseman lost her stick and they converted on it.
“We had a couple chances but weren’t able to get the puck in the net. A lot of little things and then when you do get an opportunity, who is going to be able to capitalize on that opportunity. They were able to do it.”
The second game saw the Gophers need more scoring while missing the highest scoring player in the nation. It was also a contest of mistakes, something the Gophers haven’t been prone to. Their defense has been solid behind a top-four that has been a key component of their success in the first half of the season. Wolfe, Lee Stecklein, junior Sydney Baldwin and freshman Patti Marshall have been very good this season. It was an out-of-character game for the Gophers and a character game for Wisconsin.
Both teams close out the semester next week with the Gophers heading to the east coast for a series against Boston University. Meanwhile, the Badgers head east as well, taking on an Ohio State team that just grabbed a win and a tie against no. 10-ranked North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.