ST. PAUL, Minn. — Dany Heatley, former rookie phenom, meet Peter Sejna, current rookie phenom.
Colorado College’s Sejna, annointed earlier in the day as the WCHA’s rookie of the year, showed late Thursday exactly why he got the award.
His goal with 46.3 seconds left broke a 2-2 tie, and despite Wisconsin’s Heatley scoring two goals, the Tigers advanced to the WCHA semifinals with a 4-3 victory over the Badgers in the Final Five opening game at the Xcel Energy Center.
Sejna, quiet all night, made a whole lot of noise when it counted. His one-timer wrist shot off a deflection in the slot beat Wisconsin goaltender Graham Melanson before he could react.
“I didn’t even look; I just tried to shoot it as hard as I can on net,” Sejna said. “There’s not so much to say about it, it just went in.”
The Tigers, who further cemented their claim to an NCAA tournament berth, will play top-seeded North Dakota in Friday’s first semifinal, at 2:05 p.m. Central. The Badgers, meanwhile, have to watch the scores roll in from other conferences and hope for an at-large bid when the 12-team field for the NCAAs is announced on Sunday.
“If everything falls the way hopefully it will fall,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said, “I expect a NCAA bid on Sunday.”
Sejna’s last-minute winner came out of the blue. A Mark Cullen centering pass deflected off a Wisconsin defenseman in front of Melanson. It went between the circles, right to Sejna’s stick.
He fired a quick wrister and sent the Tigers into the WCHA’s final four.
“If he’s right-handed,” Sauer said of Sejna, a lefty, “he never takes a shot.”
Heatley, last year’s rookie of the year, scored his 22nd and 23rd goals of the year for the Badgers, the first one being his 50th collegiate goal. The second came after CC’s Justin Morrison hit an empty net with 34.2 seconds left, and provided the final margin.
“He’s tricky. He’s got a lot of tools,” CC defenseman Paul Manning said. “It’s fun to play against guys like that … and sometimes it’s not so fun.”
After Joe Cullen scored 4:02 into the game to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead, Wisconsin appeared to tie things just over four minutes later.
Andy Wheeler followed a rebound with another attempt that ended up in the back of the net. Video replay judge Greg Shepherd, however, ruled that Wheeler’s second attempt went in off his skate.
Wheeler didn’t deny it.
“I kicked it toward the net,” Wheeler said. “You try to kick it to your stick. I thought I got my stick on it; it must have hit his arm instead.”
Heatley’s first goal, though, five minutes after the disallowed goal, brought the Badgers to even. He used a superb individual effort to shake off the CC defense and get the puck past Jeff Sanger.
With CC’s Mark Cullen marking him as he cut to the net from the left, Heatley somehow fought his way to the net and flipped a backhand over Sanger from close range.
“The puck just seems to gravitate to his stick,” Manning said. “When he gets around that net, [the puck] finds its way into the net.”
But the Tigers responded just 76 seconds later to take away any momentum the Badgers gained. A perfect execution of a 2-on-1 break — resulting from a UW defensive miscue along the boards — led to Noah Clarke’s 11th goal of the season.
Clarke brought the puck up the right wing and fed linemate Trent Clark. Clark, on the left, gave the puck right back to Clarke, catching the UW defenseman and Melanson moving.
Clarke had an easy tap-in for the 2-1 lead at 14:28.
Melanson helped the Badgers stay in the game going into the third period with a stellar save in the final seconds of the middle period.
Clarke had another golden try on a 2-on-1 break on the left side, but Melanson kicked it out with a right-pad save.
The Badgers took advantage of that extra life early in the third. Off a turnover along the right boards, Wisconsin’s David Hukalo poked the puck free and Heatley picked it up and fired it to the slot.
Rene Bourque, behind the defense, barely made contact with the puck but touched enough of it to send it slowly into the right side of the net as Sanger was moving to the left side.
But Sejna broke the Badgers backs, and come Sunday, maybe even their hearts.
“It just came down to who was going to make a play,” Tigers coach Scott Owens said.
Meet Peter Sejna.