MINNEAPOLIS -- On paper, it looked like a bad start for the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team Saturday, Nov. 2, in the first game of the annual Border Battle with Wisconsin.
The Gophers, ranked No. 2 in the country, were outshot by the top ranked Badgers 10-3 and trailed 1-0 after a first period that seemed to be played at warp speed. (Just 28 minutes elapsed from start to finish.) But Minnesota coach Brad Frost saw things that couldn’t be defined by mere paper. He told his team to keep with what they were doing and the chances would come.
That turned out to be the case as Minnesota scored twice in the second and third periods to upend Wisconsin 4-2 in front of an announced crowd of 3,283 at Ridder Arena.
Grace Zumwinkle scored twice and Sarah Potomak added a goal and an assist as the Gophers improved to 10-1-0 overall and remained in first place in the WCHA with a 6-1-0 mark while dealing the Badgers their first loss of the season.
“We played a lot better than the numbers indicated in that first period. I felt we had a lot of energy,” Frost said. “In the second period, we moved the puck more and we used our speed and skill better.”
Potomak, a senior, started the turnaround when she picked up a loose puck that had been batted forward by her sister Amy, a sophomore,and quickly snapped it past Wisconsin goalie Kristen Campbell at 7:55. One-hundred seconds later, Zumwinkle converted a behind the net feed from Taylor Heise and Minnesota had a lead it would never give up.
“We work on that play in practice,” Zumwinkle said. “That was a great pass from Taylor.”
The result of the two quick goals was the Badgers were trailing in a game for just the second time all season. The two goals were nice, but what made Frost even happier was what followed.
“We were taking away their spaces,” he said. “We possessed the puck more.”
As a result, Wisconsin winger Daryl Watts, who opened the scoring in the first period with her 10th goal of the season (and nation-leading 29th point) was kept in check as the game went on. Watts, a junior transfer from Boston College, had five shots on goal in the first period – and just three in the next two.
“We stuck to our game plan,” Potomak said. “We simply kept at it. In hockey, you will eventually get chances.”
When they occurred, Minnesota knew what to do with them. The Gophers kept the pressure on the Badgers the rest of the period, holding a 12-11 edge in shots on goal.
Still, a one-goal lead against a team like Wisconsin can be a scary proposition. The Badgers had been held under four goals just twice in sprinting to a 10-0 start. Zumwinkle gave her team some breathing room early in the third period when she whipped a shot that hit the far goal post and went in for a 3-1 lead. Sixty-eight seconds later, Alex Woken beat Campbell on the short side and the Ridder Arena went from happy to delirious.
“Great atmosphere today,” Frost said. Potomak echoed her coach, adding “Best crowd of the season.”
Campbell, a senior, had allowed only seven goals all season, three of which came in a win over nationally ranked Ohio State.
Armed with a three-goal lead, Minnesota goalie Sydney Scobee took it from there. The senior finished with 31 saves to help the Gophers get the first leg up in what could be several games between the two longtime powers. Last season, the teams met six times with Wisconsin getting the last word with a 2-0 victory in the Frozen Four title game in March. The season before, they met five times.
“Sydney has been great all year for us,” Potomak said. “She works on a lot of little things.”
So did her teammates Saturday. There were no penalties called in the game. Considering that Wisconsin’s power play is nearly 50 percent for the season (19 for 39), that was probably a wise strategy on Minnesota’s part. Minnesota also won the faceoff battle, 32-27.
Wisconsin did get a goal from Presley Norby at 16:15. Shortly after that, Campbell was pulled for a sixth attacker. But Minnesota kept the Badgers from getting any great chances. Zumwinkle, a junior, narrowly missed her second career hat trick when her efforts toward the empty net were thwarted by Badger defenders.
As thrilled as he was with the win, Frost acknowledged there is a long road ahead, noting “We’re still figuring out our identity – as they are.”
The teams have a rematch at 2:07 p.m. Sunday at Ridder Arena.