The Border Battle between Wisconsin and Minnesota is intense in every sport, but there always seems to be a little extra juice when the two schools meet on the ice. With both the No. 1 Badgers (15-2-1 overall, 11-2-1-1 WCHA) and No. 5 Gophers ranked in the top-five this week there was juice to spare leading into the series.
Sadly for Wisconsin, the Gophers ended up taking five of a possible six points on the weekend. Minnesota (13-5-0 overall, 8-4-0-1 WCHA) beat Wisconsin 3-2 on Friday night and then the team tied 2-2 on Saturday afternoon with the Gophers taking the extra point in the standings thanks to winning the shootout.
The Gophers set the tone 27 seconds into the first period on Friday with a Taylor Heise goal before everyone had even settled into their seats at LaBahn Arena. Emily Oden added another Gopher goal near the end of the first period and the Badgers looked completely out of sorts, registering a mere six shots on goal.
As is the case when you are the top-ranked team in the nation and defending national champs, a two-goal lead isn’t insurmountable. Casey O’Brien, like it would be anyone else this year, scored for UW in the second period and then Maddi Wheeler added the game-tying goal just under five minutes in the third period.
Nine seconds later, Wisconsin goalie Kennedy Blair made a dreadful mistake.
It is the season of giving after all... pic.twitter.com/fVL8kA8PVl— Minnesota Women's Hockey (@GopherWHockey) December 4, 2021
Blair played the puck behind the net and tried to pass it to Nicole LaMantia but there seemed to be some sort of miscommunication between the two as the puck ended up right on Catie Skaja’s stick at the side of the net and she deposited the game-winner into the empty net.
“It drains you. For some players that haven’t been practicing a lot the past couple of weeks it just takes that momentum and that energy that you just created. Now you look up and it becomes a lot harder,” head coach Mark Johnson said about giving up a goal so quickly after tying the game.
That was the second questionable decision made by Blair on the night as she was also out of the crease for Minnesota’s second goal following a diving poke check that, as Nicole correctly puts it, worked-ish.
Kennedy Blair laid out to try a poke check. It worked (ish) initially. It bounced out to Peyton Hemp on the near side. Her shot hit the post and bounced out to Oden, who had a wide open net to tap it into. 2-0 Minnesota.— Nicole Haase (@NicoleHaase) December 4, 2021
The Badgers pulled Blair with about two and half minutes remaining in the game but couldn’t even generate one shot on goal with the extra attacker.
Saturday afternoon’s game started similarly to Friday’s game with the Gophers jumping out to an early 1-0 lead after the first period thanks to a Peyton Hemp goal. O’Brien, seriously who else, scored in the second to make it 1-1 and then again in the third to make it 2-2 after an Emily Zumwinkle goal had given the Gophers the lead.
The game went into overtime, where neither team could score, and then Minnesota won the extra conference point in the eighth round of the shootout when Zumwinkle slipped one past Blair and Sophie Shirley couldn’t respond.
With three goals this weekend, O’Brien continues to lead the nation with 19 tallies on the season. She is also tied for the national lead in points with 34. Who is she tied with? Well, teammate Makenna Webster of course! Webster is also second in the nation in goals with 14.
A rough weekend for the Badgers, who hadn’t lost all season until Friday night, but hopefully it is a useful one.
“You need these games. If you look at our past two or three weekends, we haven’t had this. We had two weeks off then were up at St. Thomas so we haven’t had that competition that we needed. These games help you find out about yourself and some of the things you need to work on,” Johnson said.
UW wraps up play in the 2021 calendar year with a road series at Bemidji State, who is the only other team this season to not lose to Wisconsin. Puck drop on Friday is set for 3 p.m. CT while the series finale at the Sanford Center on Saturday is at 2 p.m. CT.