Despite faltering a bit Saturday evening, the Badger women rallied Sunday for a 2-0 win over Minnesota-State Mankato to advance to the WCHA Final Faceoff in Bemidji. They still struggled to put the puck in the net and will certainly look for ways to fix this sudden and pesky issue before next weekend, but the ability to close out the series and put away Mankato should help their confidence.
As has too often been the case in WCHA conference games this season, the refs were a storyline, calling just one penalty - with 0:09 left in the game. Both teams could and should have been whistled for infractions from tripping to goalie interference throughout the game. While there are times fans can appreciate a ref's desire to not become too much a part of the game by blowing the whistle too often, but erring to far in the other direction, this weekend's refs becuase as much a part of the game, if not more. By Sunday afternoon it felt like an injury was inevitable and the refs' lacksadaisical calling of the game would have been to blame. The pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction.
Madison Packer left the ice and went to the locker room after being hit in the stomach. She returned to play later in the game. Brittany Ammerman appeared to injure a hand, losing a glove in the process, though she didn't miss a shift. While it appears everyone was standing at the end of the game, I think all fans will breathe easier when we see the whole team suited up for next Friday's game against North Dakota. .
That game should be an interesting confluence of storylines. Wisconsin isn't playing its best hockey and is obviously struggling on offense, but NoDak went on a slide when its international players left for Sochi. They went from the number four team in the country to not being in contention for an NCAA bid unless they win the auto-bid that comes with winning the WCHA tournament. They needed overtime in the second game of their opening playoff series to defeat Bemidji State.
NoDak will be in a win-or-go-home situation and obviously that changes the tenor of a game, but even the return of their stars Michelle Karvinen and Tanja Eisenschmid might not be enough to undo the end of the season wreck that was one win in the final eight games of the regular season. Five of those losses (four in regulation and one in shootout after a tie) came to teams with records of .500 or below. Anticipate some reckless skating with North Dakota putting it all on the line.
The two teams played four times this season - Wisconsin won twice in regulation and a third time in a shootout after a tie. North Dakota won once. They play at 4:07 pm CT on Friday. The championship game is at 7:07 pm CT on Saturday.