|2nd||13:12||WIS||1-0||EV GW||Sydney McKibbon (8)||Rachel Jones/10|
|Shots on Goal||1st||2nd||3rd||SOG|
|Team Stats and Records||PP||PIM||SHGF|
|Amanda Leveille (L, 26-4-1)||59:03||1||12||6||5||23|
|Ann-Renée Desbiens (W, 32-3-1)||60:00||0||8||13||14||35|
By Robert Desimone, special to WCHA.com
Ann-Renée Desbiens made 35 saves and Sydney McKibbon scored the game's only goal in the second period as Wisconsin defeated rival Minnesota 1-0 to win the 2016 WCHA Final Face-Off Sunday afternoon at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. Desbiens was named the Most Outstanding Player, becoming the first player since 2007 and first goaltender ever to win both the WCHA Player of the Year and Final Face-Off Most Outstanding Player awards in the same season.
Wisconsin, the top seed in the tournament, defended its 2015 WCHA Final Face-Off championship and tied Minnesota for the most WCHA playoff titles in league history with six.
"As I mentioned yesterday, everyone in our locker room and on our staff was really excited to play for a championship," said Wisconsin Head Coach Mark Johnson. "It usually comes down to one team being a little more opportunistic and we were fortunate to get a goal in the second period. It was a tough task, but as I told the team a few minutes ago, that was a gut check effort, everybody had a hand in it and I'm very proud of what they put forward."
"Congratulations to Wisconsin, they played a great game," said Minnesota Head Coach Brad Frost. "Not happy with the outcome, but in regards to the process and what we ask of our players, they did everything that they could and played with a lot of passion, so I'm proud of them for that."
Desbiens - a Patty Kazmaier Award top-three finalist - has been the story of the year for Wisconsin, setting an NCAA Division 1 record (either men's or women's hockey) with 20 shutouts. Sunday was perhaps her most impressive performance; recording 35 saves, including 14 in the third period to preserve the one-goal victory.
"In this type of game you have to do whatever it takes," Desbiens said. "Hats off to our players for putting themselves in front of all the pucks, sometimes it's not always pretty but you just have to do whatever you have to do to make the save."
Wisconsin jumped out of the gates early in the first period, but Gopher goaltender Amanda Leveille was up to the challenge, keeping the game scoreless. Leveille finished the game with 23 saves in the loss.
"I thought Amanda played great early in the first period and kept them off the board," Frost added. "All of a sudden we started finding our legs a little more and played a little better."
Wisconsin was poised to take the lead at the 10:20 mark of the first period when Annie Pankowski broke in alone on Leveille, but her backhand shot rang off the crossbar and bounced out.
Despite trailing 7-1 early on the shot chart, Minnesota appeared to find its legs shortly after that opportunity for Pankowski and finished the period trailing just 12-8 on shots. A late surge earned the Gophers a power-play opportunity after Erika Sowchuk was called for tripping at 18:55, the first of four power plays on the day for Minnesota.
The Gophers entered the game first in the nation on the power play at 43.1%, but it was UW's nationally top-ranked penalty kill that won the special teams battle on Sunday, holding the Gophers scoreless on all four opportunities.
"You don't want to give them too many power-play opportunities," Johnson said of Minnesota's power play unit. "Eventually it comes down to your goaltender and what you can do to alleviate their chances. I give my players a lot of credit, they did what they needed to do."
Minnesota continued to generate opportunities in the second period, including a great save by Desbiens on a wraparound attempt from Cara Piazza midway through the period. The Gophers then earned another power-play opportunity after an interference call on Mellissa Channell at 10:04, but Desbiens again made a great save to preserve the score, this time on a one-time shot from Amanda Kessel in the slot.
Just over a minute after Channell's penalty expired, Wisconsin took advantage of a fortuitous bounce as Sarah Nurse fired a shot from the slot on net. Leveille made the initial save, but McKibbon crashed the net and fought off a check to knock the puck in behind Leveille for the 1-0 lead at 13:12.
"The last two or three weekends she's really stepped up her game," Johnson said of McKibbon. "About three-quarters of the way through the season she was getting frustrated because she expects a lot of herself and the production wasn't there, but we kept working with her and all of a sudden a couple pucks went in and the last four or five games she's played as well as she's ever played for us."
Wisconsin appeared to have an opportunity late in the period, but a blocked shot by Minnesota led to an offensive rush for the Gophers and a holding penalty against Emily Clark as time expired, giving Minnesota another power-play opportunity to begin the third period.
The early power play for Minnesota nearly proved fruitful as Kessel fired a shot from the left circle off the pads of Desbiens. The rebound bounced into the slot but the shot from Sarah Potomak flew just over the crossbar in her bid to tie the game.
Minnesota out-shot Wisconsin 14-5 in the final period, including a wave of pressure in the final minutes. The best opportunity came with just over seven minutes remaining off the stick of Dani Cameranesi. Cameranesi, the leading scorer in the WCHA this season with 32 goals and 67 points, fired a shot off the pads of Desbiens. After Desbiens made the initial save, Cameranesi gathered the rebound and tried to slide it in on the forehand, but Desbiens was up to the task, flashing the right pad and preserving the shutout.
"It was fun, it was back-and-forth," Johnson said of the fifth matchup this year against the Gophers. "Our players get excited to play (Minnesota), as I'm sure Minnesota's players and coaches do. The atmosphere was great, it's just terrific for our sport to watch these games happen."
"It's huge for us," McKibbon added. "We have been 2-2 against them this year and this was the tie-breaker, it is definitely a confidence builder going into next weekend."
Both teams will advance to the 2016 NCAA Tournament and will look to earn the WCHA's 16th national championship in 17 seasons, with Wisconsin earning the automatic berth as WCHA Champions. Minnesota will wait to learn their fate as an at-large selection.
"You never want to lose, especially for a championship against Wisconsin," said Gopher Captain Hannah Brandt. "But we lost 1-0 last year (in the WCHA Tournament) and after that went on a bit of a run. We've just have to get back at it this week, get to Saturday and play a great game, hopefully we make it to the Frozen Four and go from there."
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is making its 10th tournament appearance and vying for its fifth National Championship. The Badgers previously won it all in 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2011.