Buckeyes squeeze past Gophers in battle of WCHA titans
Sophie Jaques scored twice, including the game-winner in overtime, in Final Faceoff
MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers thought they had won Sunday’s WCHA championship game with a greasy goal late in the third period. In fact, coach Brad Frost isn’t convinced they didn’t.
At the close of a power play, Minnesota freshman Ella Huber swatted a puck out of a scrum at the crease that just got past Ohio State goaltender Amanda Thiele. Gophers players raised their arms in celebration, but the on-ice official behind the net immediately waved it a no-goal, and a review upheld the call.
The puck slid across part of the goal line but was ruled to have never crossed the line. Frost wasn’t convinced.
“I don’t know what the rule is but I’m pretty sure if the goalie catches it and puts her glove in the net, it’s a goal,” the Gophers coach said. “That was obviously a big moment.”
One of many on Sunday as the nation’s top two teams met in the championship game of the WCHA Final Faceoff at Ridder Arena. The second-ranked Buckeyes rallied from a 2-0, third-period deficit to edge top-ranked Minnesota, 3-2, in overtime.
“Kind of feels like a national championship,” Buckeyes coach Nadine Muzzerall said.
It looked like one, too — a fast, back-and-forth game that included the nation’s top three scorers, great goaltending and even a little pushing and shoving. Sophie Jaques scored twice, including the winning goal just 23 seconds into a power play to begin sudden death.
The Buckeyes (29-6-0) earned the WCHA’s automatic bid to next weekend’s NCAA tournament but both teams will host regionals starting Thursday. Each team will have a bye, so the next game for Minnesota (29-8-1) will be Saturday. It was the Gophers’ first loss since an overtime setback Jan. 28 at Ohio State.
“It didn’t happen to go our way, but we’re excited for next week,” said Gophers center Taylor Heise, the nation’s leading scorer with 29 goals and 66 points entering Sunday. She assisted on a goal by Abigail Boreen — the 25th for the nation’s second-leading scorer — that broke the scoring seal 7:22 into the second period.
Just a 𝓽𝓲𝓹, watch out for @peytonhemp 😉 pic.twitter.com/4J98SUp4ol— Minnesota Women's Hockey (@GopherWHockey) March 6, 2022
Peyton Hemp deflected an Olivia Knowles shot past Thiele with 40 seconds left in the period and the WCHA regular-season champions appeared on their way to their first tournament championship since 2018. The Buckeyes had other ideas.
“We had to regroup after that,” Muzerall said. “Got into the locker room, got in their ear a little bit, and they responded.”
Sara Saekkinen put the Buckeyes on the board with 3:14 off the clock in the third period, scoring on a pass from behind the net, and Jaques tied the game with a one-timer from between the circles at 10:26.
After the disallowed goal at 16:29, Ohio State mounted a last-second forecheck during which Knowles was called for a body check with 8 seconds left. Minnesota trapped the puck in the corner to run out the clock, but the Buckeyes felt good heading into sudden death with 1:52 of a player advantage.
Muzzerall used the time to show her top power-play team. The goal, she said, was to get the puck to Jaques, whose 11 power-play goals rank second nationally. All she needed was a bounce, a rebound that went right to her between the circles.
“I just saw the puck there and stepped into it,” she said. “I thought it was the right play.”
That’s an understatement.
The Buckeyes were a confident team coming into the tournament and leave in an even better frame of mind. On Saturday, they rallied from a 1-0 second-period deficit to beat No. 4 Wisconsin, 2-1, in the semifinals.
The Gophers are feeling alright, as well. They haven’t lost consecutive games since their season-opening series against Ohio State and brought a 10-game winning streak into Sunday’s game.
“We came out this weekend and proved that we’re a dominant force, and I’m proud of the way we played and the girls in this locker room,” Heise said. “I’m confident in what we can do and what we’re going to show next week.”