The moment was large for both Presley Norby and the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team.
The sophomore forward had only two goals in 2018 until she used a combination of dexterity and tenacity to score in Saturday’s NCAA quarterfinal game against Minnesota.
The Badgers, meanwhile, were not in a mood to try to play from behind against the Golden Gophers again.
Norby’s effort took care of both issues and ended up giving her and four other Minnesotans on the roster something special: A trip home for the Frozen Four.
UW (31-4-2) plays Colgate (33-5-1) in the national semifinals on Friday at Minneapolis’ Ridder Arena, and Minnetonka’s Norby figures to have her own cheering section with parents, grandparents and friends.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Norby said. “Being there is really cool.”
Forward Sophia Shaver (Wayzata), defensemen Mekenzie Steffen (Centerville) and Grace Bowlby (Edina) and backup goaltender Breanna Blesi (Maple Grove) also get to experience the homecoming.
It’s not a new thing, mind you — UW has already played at Ridder four times this season — but given what’s on the line, the cool factor has made a significant spike.
“Any game in Minnesota is awesome because I know all of us Minnesota girls have all of our friends and family come,” Shaver said. “But to play at the Frozen Four? The final games of the season? It’s going to be amazing.”
Norby had similar feelings about the goal that helped launch the Badgers into the semifinals.
With the teams scoreless midway through the first period, Norby was forechecking with linemate Claudia Kepler when she intercepted Katie Robinson’s pass across the middle at the offensive blue line.
Kepler skated ahead to the net, and Robinson almost immediately tied up Norby from behind for a penalty, grabbing at the Badgers forward’s jersey with her right hand.
Even as she was falling to the ice from the contact, Norby placed a shot on goal, which Gophers goalie Sidney Peters kicked out to the right of the net.
Kepler was tied up by a Minnesota defender at the net front, but the on-ice trajectories of Norby and the puck converged beyond them. With her right knee on the ice and her left leg extended, Norby got enough height on a rebound shot to lift the puck over the sprawled-out goalie.
“It was just a phenomenal effort,” Badgers assistant coach Jackie Crum said. “That’s kind of her work habits. We worked all practice going to the net, stopping in front of the net. So here it’s paying off, which is awesome.”
The timing of the goal was important, too. The Badgers were outshot 5-2 in the first 8½ minutes and had fallen behind the Gophers in two of their previous three meetings over the span of a month.
Less than a week earlier, Minnesota jumped ahead early to defeat UW 3-1 and win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff title.
“It felt good to be the first one on the board, and I think it gave us a little bit of momentum,” Norby said of her goal Saturday. “It was really exciting going through the handshake line.”
Norby scored seven goals in 22 games before the December break in the schedule. She missed two January contests with an injury and had only two goals and four assists in 2018 before Saturday’s strike.
Two goals in 16 seconds by Abby Roque, a power-play goal by Kepler and a clean performance by goalie Kristen Campbell and the defense finished off a 4-0 victory Saturday and a positive response from the loss the week earlier.
“I think when we get tested, it’s good for us,” Norby said. “Adversity is good. It’s pretty tough to have an impeccable season. Just having a little bit of adversity just makes us stronger.”