Ice madness: WCHA playoffs preview

This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.

Wisconsin and Minnesota in their final regular season match-up opener played nearly 40 minutes of scoreless hockey.  Both goalies did head stands, impressively making saves as shots fired at them in close range.

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“They are both very good goalies,” observed U-W senior forward Sarah Nurse on Ann-Renee Desbiens, the Badgers senior goalie who has 50 career shutouts, and Sidney Peters of the Gophers.  “That showed today.”

Both teams were deadlocked at a goal apiece at the end of regulation as well as the end of the five-minute overtime period.  Nurse scored the game’s tying goal in the third period.

“The shootout means nothing,” stated U-M Coach Brad Frost afterwards to reporters, including the MSR. Both teams already were locked in their playoff slots — No. 1 for the Badgers and No. 2 for the Gophers.

Nurse, the only Black player on either squad, told the Only One afterwards that the Border Battle between the WCHA’s top seeded clubs conceivably served as a prelude to the Final Face-Off next weekend. “I hope so,” she said. “We love to play them; we don’t like them. They are very similar to us. They are not dirty — they play the game right, and I like playing against them.”

“I was proud of our team and their effort,” added Frost. “That point gave us second place in the league. That is something these last few weeks we have been striving for. We have to continue to stay in the national picture.”

The WCHA quarterfinals begin Thursday at the home sites of the top four seeds. It kicks off this year’s “Ice Madness.” All four series are best-of-three. The winners advance to the league’s Final Face-Off, March 4 and 5 at Minnesota’s Ridder Arena. Three league clubs: Wisconsin (1), Minnesota Duluth (2) and Minnesota (3) are one-two-three, respectively, in the current PairWise rankings.

Wisconsin “is the overwhelming favorite this year,” reiterated Frost, whose Gophers are defending WCHA and national champions. “They are probably locked in the number one seed no matter what happens in the next two weeks.  But we want to make sure we are in that top five so that we have a chance to move on.”

“I really feel we have been playing well the last few weeks,” observed Frost. The Gophers hosts 7th-seed Bemidji State Friday, 6 pm CST, and Saturday, 4 pm CST.

But whenever it’s a Gophers-Badgers match-up, “I think you see when our two teams play is that it is a coin-flip game. Anybody can beat anybody,” stated Frost. “Desbiens was great but our goalie was fantastic as well.”

Family affair

Nurse, the Badgers’ alternate captain, is ranks second in team scoring. She was the 2015 WCHA Most Outstanding Player in last year’s Final Face-Off.

The 5-8 Hamilton, Ontario senior ranks ninth in program history in goals, and her goals-per-game average is 10th in school history.

She and her cousin Kia Nurse both are on nationally top-ranked teams this season. The junior, Kia, is one of two team members on the UConn women’s basketball team to have played in every game of its current 100-win streak. “I saw her 100th win” said Sarah of Kia’s Connecticut still-record-setting consecutive winning streak.  “It’s only getting bigger and that’s exciting.  We keep up with each other.”


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