Women's hockey ties top-ranked Gophers

Meghan Horras makes 36 saves for Wisconsin; Natalie Darwitz tallies three points for Minnesota

MADISON—In a defensive struggle against a team that averages six goals per game, the No. 4 Wisconsin women's hockey team's penalty kill was the big winner in the Badgers' 3-3 tie with No. 1 Minnesota Sunday at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin's appetite for the penalty box, though, may have cost them an opportunity to snap the Gophers' now 27-game unbeaten streak.

Wisconsin racked up 10 penalties but killed off eight of them, including two minors in overtime. The Gophers entered the weekend with nearly a 38 percent success rate with the man advantage, but were held to 2 of 12 this weekend, in going 1-0-1 against the Badgers.

"When you put Minnesota on the power play, that's what they live and breathe on and they can score pretty much at will on it," Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson said. "They got two on us today that kept them in the game."

Minnesota (14-0-2 overall, 11-0-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) outshot Wisconsin (11-4-1, 7-4-1) 39-17; 16 of Minnesota's shots on goal came on its power plays and 28 from its Olympic line. Junior wing Natalie Darwitz led the charge, with 13 shots on goal, two goals and an assist.

Badger junior netminder Meghan Horras and the penalty kill unit kept Wisconsin in the game and the Gophers out of the net—for the most part. Horras made 36 saves, including 13 in the third period and five in overtime.

Horras' performance came after sophomore goaltender Christine Dufour allowed only two goals Saturday, facing three members of the 2002 U.S. Olympic team, as well as some of the top players in the country.

"[Horras] was good and when you have Olympic players firing at net and some of the best American players, it's a challenge but they take that challenge and they run with it and both (sophomore goalie Christine Dufour) and Horras did a very good job for us," Johnson said. "If you're going to kill penalties against these teams, your best penalty killer has to be your goalie."

Wisconsin got on the board first on one of its six power plays, 5:20 into the game. Senior defender Molly Engstrom shot the puck from between the blue line and the right circle, which hit a Gopher near the crease before trickling into the net, past senior netminder Jody Horak, who finished with 14 saves.

"There was this delayed reaction and all of a sudden, on the replay, the puck is just slowly going in," Johnson said. "That's what you get on power plays if you shoot the puck through traffic, funny things happen."

Minnesota evened the game early in the penalty-laden second period, with a power-play goal from Darwitz, who took a pass from junior center Krissy Wendell at the middle of the right circle and fired it past Horras for the equalizer.

Senior left winger Jackie Friesen happened to be in the right place at the right time, collecting a puck that bounced off Horak's legs and putting it in the net for Wisconsin's second goal at 16:03 in the second.

"(Junior forward Nikki Burish) put the shot perfectly off (Horak's) pad and it bounced right on my stick so it's hard for me not to score that goal," Friesen said, laughing. "If I didn't, I think there would have been a problem."

Minnesota wasted no time tying the score. Just 23 seconds later, Darwitz took a shot from the top of the far circle that hit the crossbar and went into the net.

"We made it 2-1 and shortly after that, Natalie shoots the puck and it goes off the crossbar and in from a real long distance and those things aren't usually going to happen," Johnson said. "But they're a championship team for a reason."

Minnesota kept Horras busy in the third period, taking 14 shots on goal to Wisconsin's four, but the Badgers still found a way to score first. Freshman left winger Jinelle Zaugg saw an opportunity and zoomed down the ice, shooting the puck past Horak near the top of the crease to put the Badgers up by one at 5:29.

But Minnesota senior left winger Kelly Stephens responded with the game-tying goal of her own at 11:46 in the third period, forcing overtime.

In the extra session, Minnesota attempted to capitalize on two Wisconsin penalties, but Horras stopped all five shots sent her way.

"It's tough playing shorthanded any time but then to be in overtime, especially against Minnesota, it made me a little nervous but less so than previous kills because the team was playing so well, with their block and everything," Horras said. "They weren't letting anything by, so I felt comfortable with the way we were playing."

Despite holding the lead three times without coming away with the win on Sunday, the Badgers are by no means disappointed with the tie.

"I think this weekend was great for our team because we played hard," Friesen said. "This is probably the best weekend of hockey we've played as a team. The whole team contributed, every line was out there playing hard. … We'll get them. I have full confidence we're going to beat them once this year for sure."

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