MADISON, Wisc. — Since No. 7 Mercyhurst and No. 2 Wisconsin have been the two D-I women’s hockey programs in recent years that had come closest to the Frozen Four without actually reaching it, it was only fitting that their NCAA quarterfinal would go to double overtime and postpone both teams’ ascension even further.
At the 90:10 mark of play, freshman Tia Hanson tipped in the winning goal to give the No. 2 Badgers (34-4-1) a 2-1 win over No. 7 Mercyhurst (23-8-6) for the coveted Frozen Four berth. The game was the longest on record for Wisconsin.
“I’m exhausted,” said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson. “It’s not playing the game but watching the game and knowing that the next play could decide the game.”
It was not the longest game on record for Mercyhurst, as this was the Lakers’ second straight multi-overtime loss in the NCAA quarterfinals. Mercyhurst fell 5-4 to Harvard in triple overtime a year ago. Harvard, like Wisconsin, never led in the affair until the game-winner in OT.
“Much like last year I couldn’t be more proud of my team,” said Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti. “Our program is really built on a lot of pride and character and for people who don’t know our program or don’t see it, it’s these moments that give them a really good sample of what our team is all about.”
Halfway through the second overtime, Wisconsin finally broke the puck through Mercyhurst’s defense. From above the right circle, Badger junior Kristin Witting sliced the puck in the direction of the net. A tip by Hanson snuck the puck around Mercyhurst goalie Laura Hosier’s right skate ended the night’s hockey action.
“The puck came up to the blueline and happened to come on my stick,” Witting said. “I was just trying to get it on net. That was our goal for the period, just to get as many shots on net as possible. I didn’t know if I had scored at first or if it had gotten tipped in. I was just happy that it got in.”
“I didn’t see it go in,” Hanson said. “I just saw everyone pile on, so I just joined the crowd Not much is going through my mind right now. It’s amazing. I’m speechless, but we get to play next weekend.”
Wisconsin goalie Jessie Vetter and Mercyhurst’s Hosier were equally unfazed entering the second overtime period, both stopping every puck thrown at them. Players on both sides were relentless skating up and down the ice, trying to put the puck in the net for the win.
“There was definitely a lot of pressure on my end,” Vetter said. “One bad move and the game’s over. I knew that if we just kept going at them that because we were playing really well, that it would eventually go in the net. All I wanted to do was to pile up at the end of the game. And we got our pile up, so we’re all pretty excited.”
The Lakers jumped to a 1-0 lead 9:06 into the matchup following a shorthanded breakaway shot by Julia Colizza that the puck bounced over Vetter’s left shoulder. Danielle Lansing was the defenseman who broke Colizza free.
Wisconsin responded with a goal less than five minutes later when junior Bobbi-Jo Slusar scored on a power-play slap shot from the blue line. Slusar received the puck from Jinelle Zaugg, who was positioned on the left side looking for an open teammate.
The freshman Vetter finished with 37 saves for the Badgers. Her start over senior Meghan Horras was somewhat of a surprise.
“Jessie has played well after getting off to a very slow start, being out eight weeks with mono,” said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson. “We were concerned about the lack of space behind and around the net at this rink. Jessie’s quick, and we thought we would need that with the limited space around the net.”
Wisconsin advances to the 2006 NCAA Frozen Four taking place March 24-26 in Minneapolis. The Badgers will be challenging No. 3 seed St. Lawrence.
“I think it’s a feather in the cap of these players to do what they’ve done from day one,” Johnson said. “We were so close last year, and last year’s team believed they were going to the Frozen Four, and it took double overtime for us to take that next step.”