ST. PAUL, Minn. — Peter Sejna did it to Wisconsin for the second year in a row. This one, though, did more than put Colorado College into the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five, knocking the Badgers out in the process; it ended a legend’s career.
Sejna scored 53 seconds into overtime Thursday night, giving the Tigers a 3-2 victory over Wisconsin in the Final Five play-in game at the Xcel Energy Center.
When Sejna’s backhand from the left circle hit the twine in the top right corner of the net, Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer’s career was over. The Badgers coach, who announced earlier this season that his 31st year behind the bench would be his last, stared out at the ice before leaving it for the last time.
Colorado College coach Scott Owens said he could see in Sauer’s eyes during postgame handshakes that the Wisconsin coach knew it was all over. Sauer has maintained down the stretch of the season that he wasn’t thinking about his coaching career winding down — that would come the time next season starts, he said.
Sauer reaffirmed that Thursday night, but Owens saw it a different way.
“I could see in his face that it was over,” Owens said. “I could see that he had thought about it. He stood there kind of motionless after the goal was scored.”
As Sauer walked off the ice, a dozen of his players formed a tunnel for him to leave through. They slapped their sticks on the ice in recognition of their coach.
“Everybody to a man came up and thanked me, but it’s my thanks to them,” Sauer said. “They’re the ones that get the job done for you, they’re the ones that put in all the hard work. There’ll be another time. Tonight’s not the time.”
For the second year in a row, the ending of the play-in game was Sejna’s time. In the same situation last season — the Thursday night game at the Xcel, CC vs. Wisconsin — Sejna scored the go-ahead goal with 43 seconds left in a CC victory.
“I thought he was going to turn pro a year ago,” Sauer said.
If only the Badgers were so lucky.
Sejna took a pass from Mark Cullen on his backhand inside the left circle and flipped the puck past the glove of Wisconsin goaltender Scott Kabotoff.
“I just knew where the net was,” Sejna said. “I knew the goalie probably would go down. I just wanted to get it over his shoulder, I didn’t exactly pick a corner.”
The Tigers can consider themselves fortunate Sejna hit that spot, and that he did it so early in the overtime. They’ll play Denver in a semifinal game at 2:05 p.m. Friday, giving them just about 16 hours to recover. It could have been much worse, though.
“I had visions of this thing being 25 more minutes,” Owens said.
They can also consider themselves fortunate to have survived a second period in which Wisconsin threatened to break the game open on a number of occasions.
The Badgers outshot the Tigers 13-6 in the middle period, getting a Rene Bourque breakaway goal to knot the game at 1. Colin Stuart gave CC the lead in a sloppy first period.
The Badgers held a 6-0 advantage in shots at one point in the second period, but didn’t grab the lead despite a number of chances to do so.
“I don’t think we played very well,” Owens said. “I thought the second period was probably our worst in about four or five weeks.”
The Badgers, meanwhile, were considering themselves unfortunate. The had a four-game winning streak — their longest of the season — going into Thursday’s game.
They had been outshot by a large margin in all three of their games against the Tigers this season, yet held the Tigers to just 20 shots while notching 27 of their own.
“It’s disappointing because we were hitting our stride,” Wisconsin senior Kent Davyduke said. “This is the best we’d played against this team.”
Chris Hartsburg set himself up to be the Tigers’ hero with a go-ahead goal with 5:11 left in regulation. Hartsburg took a pass from Colin Stuart just inside the left circle and one-timed the puck past Kabotoff and inside the left post.
It looked like the Badgers’ best chance to tie the game slipped away shortly thereafter, when they failed to capitalize on a power play for the sixth time in six tries.
But Wisconsin senior Matt Doman scored with 91 seconds left — allegedly; the scoreboard clock was malfunctioning — to knot the game at 2. Doman had a sharp angle to shoot from low in the right circle, but put a shot through CC goalie Jeff Sanger’s pads for his 11th goal of the season.
Wisconsin went without as much as a decent chance on its three first-period power plays — they had just two shots on those opportunities — and saw CC score the only goal of the first period just 11 seconds after the conclusion of the last of those three man advantages.
Cullen had the puck settle in his skates as he exited the penalty box at the end of a high-sticking penalty. He brought the puck up ice along the left boards, dragging a Wisconsin defender the whole way, and dropped the puck for Stuart.
Stuart fired a slap shot from the top of the left circle that hit the glove of Kabotoff but still found its way over the goal line at 17:35.
The Badgers equalized 3:49 into the second period. Third-line center Alex Leavitt threaded a pass through the neutral zone to Bourque, who was past the defense and skated in alone on Sanger from the left side.
Bourque appeared to briefly lose control of the puck as he tried to shoot, but still got enough of it to direct it between Sanger’s pads for his 12th goal of the season.
The Badgers were playing catch-up for most of the night, though, and could never work their way into a lead. Sejna’s goal turned the lights out on their season and shut the door on Sauer’s career.
You can take the man out of coaching, but taking the coaching out of the man is going to be impossible in Sauer’s case.
A reporter noticed that in his postgame news conference, Sauer was still coaching.
“I’ll be coaching until I die,” Sauer said.