Playing a full 60 minutes is something St. Cloud State head coach Jason Lesteberg has stressed to his team all season.
Failure to do so cost the Huskies Friday afternoon at the National Hockey Center as a three-goal second period enabled No. 7 Wisconsin to escape with a 3-2 victory.
“I thought we played 57 (minutes),” Lesteberg said. “We had some stints in the second where we didn’t play well.”
The Badgers’ first goal came off a turnover and the last two were the results of lapses in defensive-zone coverage.
After a scoreless first period, Wisconsin got on the board four minutes, one second into the second period when Amy Vermeulen picked off an errant clearing pass at the top of the slot, creating a 2-on-0 situation. Vermeulen elected to take the shot and slid the puck through Laura Gieselman’s legs for her fifth goal of the season.
Vermeulen, who had a point on all three Wisconsin goals, set up Wisconsin’s second goal. She took a pass in the left circle from Kathryn Greaves and, when two SCSU players converged, moved the puck to Kathy Devereaux in the left corner. With no one left to defend near the crease, Devereaux walked out front and slipped a backhand shot under Gieselman for a 2-0 lead.
The Badgers went into the intermission up 3-0 when Devereaux, who was tied up in the slot but managed to get her stick free, tipped a Sis Paulsen shot from the top of the right circle with 2:03 to play in the frame.
Even though they scored three times in the period, the biggest key for Wisconsin was its ability to kill eight minutes worth of penalties during the second frame.
“We’re not a team that is known to take a lot of penalties,” Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson said of his team, which did not give up a power-play chance in either the first or third period. “You have to give the players who were out there a lot of credit because it’s tough. Coming out of there with a 3-0 lead was probably the difference in the game.”
Lesteberg also recognized that fact.
“I was really disappointed in our forecheck,” he said. “We felt we were down 3-0 because of our power play. We’d get into the zone and try to be individualistic and try to take it to the net by ourselves and we weren’t utilizing everybody out there.”
After killing two penalties of their own early in the final period, the Huskies finally got on the board when they capitalized on a Badger turnover at the 10:05 mark.
Tina Ciraulo picked off a pass in the Wisconsin zone along the right wing boards. She quickly threw the puck to the middle of the slot where Katie Hauge was waiting. Hauge swatted the puck off a short hop and put it in the net before Badger goalie Jackie MacMillan could slide across her crease to make the save.
The Huskies cut the lead to one with 4:17 to play when Melanie Pudsey scored her team-high ninth goal of season. She took a pass from Erin McNamara behind the net, came out the left side and scored on a backhand to give her team a chance to win the game in the final minutes.
Those minutes of the game got chippy. Moments after the final horn sounded, a melee broke out on the ice which resulted in McNamara, a senior scheduled to play her final home Saturday afternoon, being given a minor and major for crosschecking and a game disqualification, which will force her to sit out the team’s next game.
The penalty may be changed, however, as video replay showed McNamara was not involved in the original fracas. Video also showed Wisconsin defenseman Kerry Weiland, who received a minor penalty for roughing, clearly throwing two punches, landing one, and then hitting assistant referee Lisa Schlatter in the head with her stick while being pulled away from postgame action.
The incident marred what otherwise was a well-played an incident-free game, which saw just seven penalties called by referee Jay Mendel.
“It’s probably our toughest loss of the season because I felt we outplayed them for quite a while,” Lesteberg said. “We just didn’t bury our opportunities. We shot into MacMillan’s glove several times where, if he go upstairs, they’re goals.”
The loss for St. Cloud State, which drops the Huskies to 9-20-0 overall and 4-17-0 in the WCHA, leaves it two points from being eliminated from playoff contention. Ohio State, playing at home against Minnesota State Friday night, can clinch a spot in the WCHA Final Five with a win over the Mavericks.
The Badgers, who clinched a playoff spot last weekend, are 17-6-5 overall and 10-5-4 in league play. The teams meet again Saturday, at 2:05 p.m. CST.