MADISON — Wisconsin managed to avoid the upset bug sweeping through the NCAA quarterfinals. But not before it had to play in four overtimes.
The top-seeded Badgers outlasted Harvard, 1-0, in front of 5,125 fans at the Kohl Center on Saturday night and continued their quest to repeat as national champions, in a field suddenly clear of the other top four seeds.
Jinelle Zaugg lashed a one-timer past Crimson netminder Brittany Martin at the 7:09 mark of the fourth extra frame to end the second-longest contest in women’s college history and the fourth most lengthy affair in all of college hockey lore.
“When Jinelle’s puck went in, obviously it was relief on our part,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said. “It’s unfortunate somebody had to lose the hockey game.”
The 127 minutes and nine seconds of play ranks behind only the 1996 ECAC Tournament final between New Hampshire and Providence, which went five overtimes and lasted 145:35, in duration for a women’s college game.
“We actually brought the Skittles out between the third and fourth [overtime] periods,” Badgers goalie Jessie Vetter said. “Anything to get us goingWe’re just glad that we came out with the win.”
Of the two Patty Kazmaier Award finalists on the ice, Harvard’s Julie Chu and Wisconsin’s Sara Bauer, it was Bauer who tipped the scales in the end, setting up Zaugg’s game-winner with an incisive cut through the Harvard defense and a crisp, tape-to-tape pass.
“She was probably our best forward overall from start to finish,” Johnson said of Bauer. “I don’t think anybody on either team had the puck as much as she did.”
The most dynamic duel of the night, however, was between the two goaltenders. Martin turned in a career-best performance, withstanding the Badgers’ endless barrage of shots for a school-record 67 saves.
Vetter, not to be outdone, simply posted a two-plus-hour clean sheet.
“Brittany Martin was out of her mind,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “She played great. I would’ve liked to have more pucks on their goaltender, but she’s a great goaltender too.”
Neither goalie was a shoe-in to start, as both had been one half of a successful platoon at the position during the regular season. Martin split time with rookie Christina Kessler, only emerging as the starter in time for the playoffs, while Vetter shared minutes with senior Christine Dufour.
The Badgers controlled the run of play throughout regulation, outshooting the Crimson by a wide margin in each of the first three periods, en route to a 36-14 edge by the end of regulation. Wisconsin possessed the puck for extended stretches, cycling the puck out of the corners with ease, but generated few genuine scoring chances. The Badgers had a chance to end it in regular time when the Harvard bench committed a too many men penalty with 3:52 remaining in the third period. But the Crimson penalty kill, 5-for-5 on the night, held strong.
In fact, that was the last penalty of the night save one-a holding call on Caitlin Cahow 10:28 into the third overtime-as the officiating crew resolved to let the game be decided at even strength once it turned to sudden death. Harvard was 0-for-2 on its power play.
Without any whistles, the overtime periods were instead full of near misses from both teams. An apparent Wisconsin goal late in the first overtime was waved off after the puck had been blown dead. And the Crimson’s top line of Chu, Sarah Vaillancourt, and Sarah Wilson offered up most of the team’s nine shots in the third OT, its highest total in any one frame.
“I think the fans really got their money’s worth,” Stone said. “It was a great effort by both teams, up-and-down hockey and some great goaltending. Anyone who was in the building tonight should be convinced that women’s hockey is a tremendous sport to take in.”
The 5,125 fans in attendance were the third-most ever assembled for women’s college game, ranking behind the Harvard-Minnesota-Duluth 2003 NCAA final and the opening game of the Minnesota program.
Wisconsin now advances to the Frozen Four in Lake Placid, N.Y. this weekend, where it will meet St. Lawrence, a surprise 6-2 winner over New Hampshire in Saturday’s early quarterfinal. Upstarts Minnesota-Duluth and Boston College, the last two teams into the tournament field, meet in the other semifinal. The Bulldogs were overtime winners over Mercyhurst, while the Eagles required two overtimes to knock off Dartmouth.
“If people don’t think [parity] is here,” Johnson said, “they haven’t been watching. You looked at the matchups and I don’t think a lot of people predicted some of the outcomes. Anybody can win this tournament.”