LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The regular suspects got it done for Wisconsin, as the first line scored all four goals, and sophomore goalie Jessie Vetter collected her 15th career shutout in a decisive 4-0 victory over St. Lawrence in the NCAA semifinals. The win marks the second consecutive year Wisconsin has defeated St. Lawrence to advance to the title game.
“We were able to capitalize on a lot of the things we have been working on all season long,” said Mark Johnson, Wisconsin head coach.
The scoring happened in bunches, with two goals just 1:42 apart in the first and two more from the same two goal scorers just 33 seconds apart in the third. Freshman Meghan Duggan led the way with two goals and an assist, linemate Jinelle Zaugg also had two goals and a helper, and last year’s Patty Kazmaier Award winner Sara Bauer — center between the two skaters — contributed three assists.
“I thought our kids did a good job, but we made a few mistakes defensively and they made us pay,” said Paul Flanagan, St. Lawrence coach.
Wisconsin certainly entered the game as favorites. The defending national champion Badgers have held the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the USCHO.com poll for the entire season, and the other three seeded teams all lost in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
Not only that, but the Badger defense hadn’t allowed a goal in tournament play in 388:13, a streak that stretches back through this year’s epic quadruple overtime battle against Harvard, last year’s title game against Minnesota, semifinal game against today’s opponent St. Lawrence, and into the quarterfinal game against Mercyhurst. Last year’s tournament Most Outstanding Player, Wisconsin goalie Jessie Vetter, was returning in net for the Badgers.
“If you look at the eight teams in this year’s tournament, all of them have pretty good goaltenders,” said Johnson. “At Wisconsin, we’ve been fortunate enough to have pretty good goaltenders the last couple of years, but they’ve had a pretty good supporting cast. And whenever you do make a mistake, you have Jessie Vetter behind you to make the save. That’s a good recipe for success.”
St. Lawrence, however, presented a formidable offense. The Saints have scored three or more goals in their last five games, which included games against national powers Harvard, Dartmouth, and New Hampshire. Junior center Sabrina Harbec by herself has scored nearly two points a game in 37 games this season.
The first goal came early in the frame, less than three minutes into the game. A play that seemed fairly innocuous, freshman first liner Meghan Duggan took a pass from Sara Bauer, skated into the zone, and shot from the right face-off circle. Despite the fact that SLU goalie Meaghan Guckian wasn’t screened, and the shot was obviously coming, and from a reasonable angle, the puck squirted in on the near side of the post.
“I didn’t expect to score,” said Duggan. “When I skated in, I heard the coach’s voice in the back of my head saying ‘Just shoot it!’ I just fired it on net, and I was surprised to see it go in.
“In the locker room before the game, we talked about how important it was to start off strong, to get one on the first shift, or the first couple of shifts. That what we did.”
Less than two minutes later, a similar goal was scored by Jinelle Zaugg, who took a shot from almost the same position on the ice, although in her case she was cutting from the left side. Her shot also surprisingly ended up in the back of the net for an early two goal cushion for the defending national champs.
The Saints had a chance to get back in the game when Wisconsin’s Emily Morris was sent to the box for tripping, just 12 seconds after Meaghan Mikkelson took a penalty for body checking, giving St. Lawrence 1:48 with a two-man advantage. However, the resulting power play didn’t look so good for SLU, as the Saints managed just one shot in that time, and committed the sin of icing the puck with the two-player edge.
“We were too nervous,” explained Sabrina Harbec. “We tried to force a shot, force a pass. They didn’t pressure us as much, they waited to block the shot. That’s different than we’ve seen all year.
It was during this sequence, Johnson said, that Sara Bauer’s value to the team becomes evident. “She had two big blocks during that 5 on 3, and one swiping play to knock the puck past the blue line. That kind of thing doesn’t show up on the scoresheet, but it’s important over the course of the game.
“We scored two goals, then we killed off the 5 on 3. That got us some momentum,” he said, in an understatement.
Wisconsin goalie Jessie Vetter looked very confident in net, which contrasted with Guckian’s shaky play. Even on a Guckian save on a Bauer shot late in the first, she flopped to the ice trying to cover the puck and looked into the net.
The second period went by remarkably fast, with no penalties, no goals, and minimal whistles. Guckian came into the period looking much more confident, and St. Lawrence looked strong on offensive chances, but the forwards couldn’t solve Vetter. The best scoring chance came on a breakaway by sophomore forward Lisa Batchelor, but Vetter made a sliding save.
“Sometimes in a game like this, you can’t get through to the net, you can’t generate offensive chances,” said Flanagan. “I don’t think that was the case tonight. They didn’t thwart us, we just couldn’t finish the play. Vetter did a great job. We’ve played her twice now, and we couldn’t get one by her either time.”
Two quick goals in the third period spelled the end of the game fo St. Lawrence, and they were remarkably similar to the two goals in the first. Meghan Duggan scored from almost the same spot as the first period, and then just 33 seconds later, Zaugg had her second goal of the game while in tight by the crease.
With the win, Wisconsin advances to its second straight NCAA title game, to be played on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
“This is what we have been striving for since our first practice on September 15,” said Johnson. “We’re excited to have one more practice tomorrow and one more game on Sunday.”
For St. Lawrence, the loss is the end of the season, and continued futility in the Frozen Four. “There’s a real sense of frustration,” said Flanagan. “Particularly for the kids who have been here before. We’re in
the hunt every year, and hopefully one of these day’s we’ll get one.”