BEMIDJI, Mn. - Sophomore goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie made 35 saves and Meghan Dufault scored the only goal of the tight-checking game to lead the University of North Dakota to a 1-0 victory over Wisconsin Friday evening and advanced to the championship game of the 2014 WCHA FINAL FACE-OFF at the Sanford Center in Bemidji, Minn.
"Obviously, it was a fantastic game; it was exactly what we expected," said UND head coach Brian Idalski. "Wisconsin is a well-coached and well-disciplined team. These games are fun to play for sure."
North Dakota will face top-seeded Minnesota (35-1-1) in the WCHA Final Face-Off championship game Saturday at 7:07 p.m. (CT). The Gophers, the two-time defending national champions and two-time FINAL FACE-OFF champs scored three third period goals to down Minnesota-Duluth, 4-1, in the second semifinal game Friday. In four meetings this season, Minnesota went 3-1 against UND. Last season, the Gophers beat North Dakota 2-0 in the championship game of the FINAL FACE-OFF.
Amsley-Benzie, who lives in nearby Warroad, Mn., recorded her second shutout of the season and won the goaltenders' dual against all-WCHA goalie Alex Rigsby, who made 23 saves.
No. 9-ranked North Dakota, seeded third in the FINAL FACE-OFF, improves its record to 20-11-4 overall, marking the fourth-straight season that UND has reached the 20-wins plateau. No. 2-ranked Wisconsin, seeded second in the tournament, has a 27-7-2 record as it awaits to hear its fate in the NCAA tournament.
Mark Johnson, the Badgers' coach, indicated after the game that he felt confident his team would be included in the eight-team NCAA field when the tournament qualifiers and at-large teams are announced Sunday at 5 p.m.
Idalski said he has no doubt UND's only way to qualify for the national tournament is to win Saturday's WCHA title game and gain the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament that goes with it.
"That's a fact,'' he said.
After a back-and-forth start to the game, Wisconsin generated several high-quality scoring chances in the first period. Amsley-Benzie stopped all 15 shots she saw in the opening period to keep the game scoreless, making saves on a Brittany Ammerman breakaway and on a backdoor opportunity by former Warroad high school teammate Karley Sylvester.
"This is playoffs; it is a do-or-die situation," Amsley-Benzie said. "Overall this is the best game our team has played defensively. They helped a lot back there. It was just a solid team effort. I know if we lose, we are done, and I am not ready to be done."
In the second period, Amsley-Benzie continued to shut down Wisconsin, who controlled play for the first 10 minutes. UND started to earn some scoring chances of its own, with the best being a breakaway by Michelle Karvinen, whose shot rang off the right post. With 3:14 left in the second period, Dufault's original shot was deflected away, but she pounced on the rebound and buried it past Rigsby. The goal was only the second scored by UND on Rigsby all season.
The Badgers outshot UND 11-6 in the final period, but Amsley-Benzie turned aside every shot to preserve the 1-0 lead.