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WCHA FINAL FACE-OFF: North Dakota rides goalie to upset over No. 2 Wisconsin

North Dakota goalie Shelby Amsley-Benzie makes a save on against Wisconsin’s Erika Sowchuk during the third period of their WCHA Final Faceoff semifinal game Friday at the Sanford Center. Amsley-Benzie made 35 saves and got the shutout in UND’s 1-0 victory. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Shelby Amsley-Benzie shrugged off the suggestion that any of the 35 saves she made Friday night were game-changers.

Among the many impressive saves made by the North Dakota sophomore during their WCHA Final Faceoff playoff game against Wisconsin was stoning Badgers’ forward Brittany Ammerman on a first-period breakaway — one that looked like a sure goal as soon as Ammerman forced the turnover at the blueline.

Instead, Amsley-Benzie calmly swatted the shot away with her blocker, just as she deflected questions about her outstanding game to her team’s defensive play in front of her.

“It’s just another save,” Amsley-Benzie said. “It’s a big game, it’s a big game and every save is going to be big in a big game. It’s playoff hockey.”

The Warroad native didn’t budge during the game, either.

Her 35-save shutout, combined with Meghan Dufault’s second-period game winner, helped power third-seeded UND’s 1-0 win over the second-seeded Badgers Friday at the Sanford Center.

The win gives UND a shot at securing their third-straight NCAA tournament bid. They’ll take on Minnesota during today’s 7:07 p.m. title game.

The Gophers beat Minnesots-Duluth 4-1 in the other semifinal game Friday.

“We’re just looking forward to playing another hockey game,” UND head coach Brian Idalski said. “We’re on life-support, we understand that. We’re hungry.”

UND (20-11-4) fought off Wisconsin (27-7-2) in the first period but managed to prevent the Badgers from scoring early thanks to a solid defensive performance led by Amsley-Benzie. She made 15 saves in the first period, including the one on Wisconsin star Ammerman, that gave UND chance to take the lead later.

“Overall this best our team has played defensively,” Amsley-Benzie said. “It was an overall team effort. They really helped me out back there.”

Idalski said keeping Wisconsin at bay for so long helped deflect some of the pressure to the Badgers.

“I thought Wisconsin came out and played extremely well,” he said. “We were on our heels for a chunk of the first and Shelby definitely kept us in and and make some saves to keep it 0-0. And I think after we got out of that the pressure flipped from us to them.”

In the second period UND got the only goal it needed. 

Late in the middle frame Dufault forced a turnover at the blue line, took a shot then got her own rebound and pushed it past Wisconsin goaltender Alex Rigsby for the score. She did almost the entire thing from her knees.

“It was awesome,” Dufault said of her goal allowing her team to advance to today’s finals. “We played solid defensively and when we got the chance we buried it. It all started on the defensive end.”

Dufault also scored the game-winning goal during last weekend’s 2-1 overtime win against Bemidji State.

Rigsby said the goal changed the Badgers’ mindset a little bit — from then on they seemed to panic.

“I think we played like we were defeated for a bit,” she said. “We had all the momentum then as soon as they scored it seemed like they got it.”

In the third period UND holed up defensively and didn’t take too many chances. Wisconsin outshot UND 11-6.

The Badgers had a few scoring chances — especially with an extra attacker late in the third — but Amsley-Benzie didn’t let anything past her.

“She relishes being in this situation in the playoffs,” Idalski said. “She has a mentality that lends to her being successful in these situations.”

UND will look to today’s game — which they need to win to make their third-straight NCAA tournament. Wisconsin, meanwhile, should be in but head coach Mark Johnson knows his team must be better when it counts.

“We’re disappointed with the end result,” he said. “Overall we played OK but this time of year OK isn’t good enough. 

“The nice part about it is we get another game. Hopefully we can take the learning experience of today and come back in our next contest and understand we need to give a little bit more to be successful.”

North Dakota 1, Wisconsin 0

UND 0 1 0 — 1

UW 0 0 0 — 0

First Period — No Scoring. Penalties — None.

Second Period — 1, UND, Dunfault (Unassisted), 16:46. Penalties — None.

Third Period — No Scoring. Penalties — UW, Channell (Roughing), 3:38; UND, Dalen (Roughing), 3:38.

Shots On Goal — UND, 8-10-6—24; UW, 15-9-11—35. Goalies (Shots-Saves) — UND, Amsley-Benzie (35-35); UW, Rigsby (24-23). Penalties-Minutes — UND, 1-2; UW, 1-2. Power Plays-Opportunities — UND, 0-for-0; UW, 0-for-0. Faceoffs — UND, 33-28.

Minnesota 4, UMD 1

In the late game, Minnesota-Duluth hung with the top-ranked defending national champions all game.

UMD’s Katerina Mrazova scored the game’s first goal but the Gophers scored the next four goals and advanced to today’s finals.

Minnesota’s Kelly Terry scored for the Gophers to make it 1-1 going into the third period.

From there, Minnesota turned it on, outshooting UMD 11-5 and scoring three goals.

Rachel Bona, Milica McMillen and Dani Cameranesi each scored for the Gophers in the final frame.

Amanda Leveille made 21 saves for Minnesota, which improves to 35-1-1 on the season.

Kayla Black took the loss for the Bulldogs, who end ther season 15-15-6.

Minnesota moved on to face North Dakota in today’s final. North Dakota was the only team to beat the Gophers this season.

Minnesota 4, Minnesota-Duluth 1

UMD 0 1 0 — 1

UM 0 1 3 — 4

First Period — No Scoring. Penalties — None.

Second Period — 1, UMD, Mrazova (Morin, McParland), 7:30; 2, UM, Terry (Cameranesi, Gillanders), 13:40. Penalties — UMD, Krause (Tripping), 2:35; UMD, Team )Too Many Playuers), 11:36; UM, McMillen (Roughing), 17:31.

Third Period — 3, UM, Bona (Lorence, Schipper), 7:47, PP; 4, UM, McMillen (Schipper, Bona), 14:05; 5, UM, Cameranesi (Wolfe), 19:10. Penalties — UMD, Villa (Checking), 6:37; UM, Lorence (Charging), 9:42; UMD, Huertas (Cross Checking), 11:24; UM, Davis (Interference), 16:30.

Shots On Goal — UMD, 10-7-5—22; UM, 9-16-11—36. Goalies (Shots-Saves) — UMD, Black (36-32); UM, Leveille (22-21). Penalties-Minutes — UMD, 4-8; UM, 3-6. Power Plays-Opportunities — UMD, 0-for-3; UM, 1-for-4.