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Wisconsin vs Minnesota women's hockey recap: No. 1 Gophers top No. 2 Badgers, 3-2

The first meeting between the top two teams in the country did not disappoint.

Wisconsin's Katy Josephs and Blayre Turnbull charge into the offensive zone against Minnesota.
Wisconsin's Katy Josephs and Blayre Turnbull charge into the offensive zone against Minnesota.
Nicole Haase

The Minnesota Golden Gophers have one loss dating back to February 2012. Friday's win was their 43rd road win in a row. They're a very, very good hockey team. But you also don't make it through that stretch without some help. Call it luck, call it good juju - whatever it is, Minnesota has it on their side. Cliche or not, the pucks are bouncing for the Gophers, not against them.

When Wisconsin played Minnesota in November, the first goal for the Gophers was a Badger own goal. When Minnesota scored in the exact same fashion in the first game of the series Friday night, senior goalie Alex Rigsby admitted to laughing to herself.

Freshman Sarah Nurse hit the post, put the puck across the goal mouth and put at least two other shot point-blank on Minnesota goalie Amanda Leveille. On another night, against another team and another goalie, she might have had a career game. Instead, she came up empty.

Redshirt junior Brittany Ammerman said the team can't let those things get to them and they have to assume the pendulum will swing back in their direction.

"I think you mentally just go with a little bit of karma. Some things have to go our way. I think tomorrow, karma will help us. I think that's always a good way to think of it mentally," said Ammerman.

Wisconsin got on the board first when Ammerman tipped in a long shot from junior Katy Josephs on a 5-on-3 power play. The first period featured four penalties, which coach Mark Johnson admitted surprised him.

"I didn't think there would be four penalties in the whole game," he said.

Spending most of the first period on special teams kept both teams from settling in a rhythm. Wisconsin was more aggressive in the first period than they've shown throughout the season, but the play stoppages kept either team from prolonged possession.

Early in the second period, Johnson called his timeout. From there, the Badgers were able to settle into their game plan and get more solid looks on net. They held the puck in the Gophers' offensive zone for extended periods, cycled the puck around and connected on crisp passes. Those are all things they failed to do with an frequency against North Dakota a few weeks ago.

The second Minnesota goal came on the power play and is one Rigsby will probably be thinking about tonight. She stopped the initial shot, but the rebound trickled past her and over the line.

In seasons past, when Badger teams have gone down a goal, there was no concern that they'd be able to come back and put three more on the board. With a lower-powered offense against the stingy Gopher defense, that wasn't necessarily assured.

Turnbull answered quickly, tying the game at 2 with a virtual coast-to-coast goal. She picked the puck up at the defensive blue line and carried it through three Minnesota defensemen before putting it behind Leveille with authority.

There's no clear way to describe it, but sitting in the stadium it was clear that Turnbull was not content with a 2-1 loss and single-handedly decided to change the outcome.

"It's a good response," said Johnson. "They defend very well, so they go up 2-1 and we may not get another goal, but she takes it upon herself and has a nice rush and creates that energy."

Minnesota took the lead for good halfway through the third frame on a pretty play that was buried on the far post.

The loss is one that might stick with the senior class, who were recognized on ice before the game as part of Senior Night festivities.

"It's definitely disappointing. We came out with a lot of energy and I thought we played really well. Obviously it didn't end the way we wanted. It's never fun to come home to lose on our own rink, especially on senior night, but all that aside I thought we played really well tonight and we're ready for tomorrow night," said Rigsby.

The win for Minnesota clinched the WCHA regular-season title - their eighth in team history.

The teams return to the ice tomorrow for the Fill the Bowl game, which has sold out in advance for the first time. The players are excited - the freshman and sophomores on the team have never played a game in the Kohl Center, but have practiced there.

Ammerman is excited for the bigger sheet of ice as it plays to Wisconsin's speed advantage. Rigsby said the nerves will come during warm-ups when the lower bowl or two of the stadium is full, but that from there the team will feed off the energy.

"It's an opportunity to do something very special. If I'm playing in that game, I'm going to be quite excited. It will be no different except there will be 14,000 people watching, so it will be great," said Johnson.

For the seniors, it would be a great way to replace the memory of Friday's Senior Night with an even greater one.