MINNEAPOLIS — The bounce of the puck to Tia Hanson at the blue line seemed fairly innocuous at first, but a quick move around a defender and a perfect shot was all Wisconsin needed to reach its first NCAA final.
Hanson broke a defensive deadlock just over five minutes into the third period, less than a week after she netted an NCAA quarterfinal double overtime game-winner against Mercyhurst. Freshman goalie Jessie Vetter stood tall in net again with 27 saves to lead No. 2 Wisconsin (35-4-1) to a 1-0 victory over No. 3 St. Lawrence (31-5-2) in the first NCAA semifinal of the Frozen Four at Mariucci Arena Friday afternoon.
“The last goal I scored, I thought I’d never score a goal bigger than that,” said Hanson. “I’m just real excited to be able to do it again.”
“We’re very excited to get the opportunity to play for a national championship,” said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson. “I’m extremely proud of the commitment, passion, and the opportunity that my players have displayed this season.”
Hanson scored the game’s only goal just after St. Lawrence had attempted to clear the puck out of its defensive zone. Hanson moved quickly to save the puck from crossing the blue line. Taking the puck, she made a beeline for the net, deftly maneuvering around her defender and then ripping a quick shot from the left faceoff circle that evaded SLU goalie Jess Moffat to her left, top shelf.
“I saw it pretty much the whole way,” said Moffat, who had just one blemish on 25 shots. “She made a nice move and then just ripped a quick shot that I didn’t have an awful lot of time to react to The way the game was going, it seemed like it was going to be a goal like that that went in first.”
St. Lawrence outshot Wisconsin 14-8 in the game’s opening frame on the strength of three power plays to none for the Badgers, but the Saints failed to gain any advantage on the scoreboard.
“It always comes back to haunt you when you don’t convert on your power play opportunities,” said St. Lawrence head coach Paul Flanagan. “We had some good chances in the first period and another in the second, but when you don’t score on those advantages you are going to have a hard time no matter what.”
SLU nearly put one in on its final power play late in the period, but Vetter came up with big saves when she needed to. Midway through the penalty, Vetter slid across the goal mouth to reach a puck with her glove. With 10 seconds left in the period, she directed a wily shot over the back of the net and out of harm’s way to keep the Saints off the board.
Jess Moffat got her opportunity to flash the glove about five minutes into the second. With Kazmeier Award finalist Sara Bauer standing directly in front of her, Moffat hit the ice in an awkward split-like stance, but stoned Bauer on three consecutive shots from point-blank range. Shortly thereafter, she made a save in much the same way Vetter had the previous period, scooping the puck out of mid-air with her glove to foil a three-on-two chance for the Badgers.
A few minutes later, St. Lawrence came very close to breaking onto the scoreboard with a flurry that ended up with a wildly bouncing puck directly in front of the net. Vetter lost sight of the quickly-moving puck, which fell directly behind her, but did not reach the goal line. The Badgers were fortunate to get the first stick to the puck, clearing it off the line and preserving the shutout before SLU could get close enough to tap the loose puck into the net.
During the last five minutes of the second period, it was Wisconsin’s turn on the advantage, as St. Lawrence took two separate goal-saving penalties. But the SLU penalty kill was up to the challenge in keeping the score deadlocked going into the second intermission.
After Hanson’s goal, St. Lawrence worked fast and furious to keep the puck in its own attacking zone but could not find the tying goal. Emilie Berlinguette and Sabrina Harbec both managed to get free of their defenders through the slot late in the period, but both players ran out of time as they approached the crease, and the puck was easily cleared away by Vetter.
St. Lawrence, playing in its third consecutive Frozen Four, lost its third consecutive semifinal game, having dropped decisions to Harvard in each of the last two seasons.
The Badgers advance to the NCAA championship game, which takes place Sunday at Mariucci Arena. They will take on either Minnesota or New Hampshire.
“We’ve played Minnesota five times already, and we’ve also seen New Hampshire out east this season,” said Johnson. “We’re just going to relax for a few hours now and get back to work tomorrow. It should be a tight game no matter who we face.”