BOSTON — The Wisconsin Badgers weren’t broke entering their fourth national title game in a row. So they didn’t fix a thing.
The sure-fire combination of suffocating offense and unbeatable goaltending served UW well, as the Badgers parried every valiant Mercyhurst thrust in a 5-0 romp. Sophomore superstar Hilary Knight scored a goal with an assist, as did junior Meghan Duggan and senior Angie Keseley. Senior center Erika Lawler tallied three assists in the win, and Wisconsin (34-2-5) also got strikes from frosh Brooke Ammerman and Malee Windmeier. Patty Kazmaier Award winner Jessie Vetter made 37 saves for her NCAA-record 14th shutout of the season.
It was a tough game and obviously were really excited about being victorious, said coach Mark Johnson. Last year we came up a little bit short, and I know our senior class wanted to get to this game and certainly when we got ourselves in a position, I told them we needed to play to win. I felt we did that for most of the game today. With Jessie in net, when we did break down, we bended for a while, what shes done for four years, you saw today.
Its exciting to win this; its tough to get here. Obviously the coaches within our league and certainly throughout the country understand all the time and effort that these young kids put into it. Its a long six months journey, and its just nice to take the trophy back to Madison.
The youthful but incendiary Lakers kept Vetter busy all night, but couldn’t take advantage of what little space she gave them. Powerful forward Meghan Agosta was at the forefront of the attack, but Mercyhurst (31-6-0) couldn’t overcome UW’s dominance. Freshman goaltender Hillary Pattenden made 27 saves in defeat.
I think anytime you lose is just unfortunate, but we talked to the team and told them that we did do a lot this year, said head coach Michael Sisti. For as young as we were and with a 3-4 start, we were banged up down the stretch, but our kids showed great heart and grit to get here. It was certainly a wonderful experience.
I think well look back and be able to relish everything we did accomplish, but today its certainly disappointing. We know how far this team has come and for me personally, how far the program has come. The hurdles weve had to jump over to get to this point make it very rewarding, but its still disappointing, he added.
The teams warmed to the event quickly with an exciting fifth minute of play. An errant Laker pass inadvertently sprung Keseley on a breakaway, but Pattenden was up to the task with a patient deke-denying butterfly. The puck promptly reversed direction with a 50-foot feed to lonesome Laker Jesse Scanzano at the Badger blueline. The Montreal-bred import tested Vetter, but the newly minted Patty Kaz winner lived up to the honor with the save.
The Lakers more than managed to hold their own early on, peppering the top seed’s ‘tender with six of the game’s first eight shots and dictating the pace of the action with their speed and superb transitional adjustments.
Wisconsin center Ammerman had the best opportunity to open the scoring as of her 15th-minute shot, beating Pattenden clean with a 25-foot wrister. The diving, knuckling puck eluded the goalkeeper’s swinging right pad and bounced goalward, but the blue-clad underdogs were saved by Pattenden’s forgiving post.
Kazmaier finalist Agosta made an equally potent play two minutes later with a run down the right-wing lane. Swinging hard around the Badger defense, the nation’s leading scorer-per-game danced across Vetter’s crease, but her shot was refused entry with a far-side kick-save.
An exceptional first period hit the books nil-nil. The Lakers out-shot the Madison women 9-7, but enduring a late penalty that left UW with 44 seconds of fresh-sheet power play time to start the second.
We thought we could exploit them and we did in the first period, but we just didnt capitalize, Sisti lamented. Goals are momentum, especially if you get can get them against a team like Wisconsin which doesnt give up a lot of them. So that was important and I think even in the second we were going okay, but a number of things took a lot of win out of our sails.
The Lakers dodged one shorthanded punch when Duggan failed to put the lumber on Keseley’s cross-crease pass; Duggan was alone atop the blue paint but Keseley’s trajectory was just a bit tight. Wisconsin renewed their power play with five seconds still remaining in the original minor, but in the end the Lakers held the fort, killing the summed 3:55 disadvantage.
Defenseman Olivia Jakiel was called for tripping moments later, leading to a double-bid on rebound shots from Laker strikers Bailey Bram and Agosta, but Vetter was square to each try.
The WCHA champs took advantage of their goalie’s stops, racing back for the game’s first goal. Leading scorer Knight was prevented from taking a point-blank shot off the rush from Pattenden’s right, but was forced into the crease as Ammerman wheeled the puck around the net. Pattenden couldn’t recover her left post in time, allowing the rookie to slip the wraparound between the pipes.
The first goal in these types of game is huge, Johnson mused. If you score it, obviously your team settles down a little bit more and gets a little bit more comfortable in the standpoint of youre going to play in the way youre normally going to play. Up to that point, especially early in the first period, similar to our game against Duluth, we were a little tentative, it was like a game of chess going back and forth.
The first goal is huge. When you have young players, you have freshmen, you dont know how theyre going to react in this environment. If you score, like Mercyhurst did yesterday they got excited. It creates energy, it makes you play a little bit stronger. Obviously the first goal for us helped today.
The Badgers struck again 8:48 into the stanza, crashing the net to perfection in a bang-bang play. Senior blueliner Alycia Matthews got the puck to the net, where Duggan muscled it over Pattenden.
The favorites were just heating up, running a textbook three-on-one 1:50 later after a short but spirited Mercyhurst possession. Knight crossed to Lawler, whose return pass to Keseley eluded a diving defender. The workhorse winger coolly redistributed the puck into the yawning cage, to the raucous approval of the red-heavy crowd.
We rushed a couple of plays with the puck and maybe an early goal would have jump-started us, said Sisti. I thought we were okay, a little tentative and then in the second period when we let in that goal we really showed our youth and started doing things a little differently than we like to do them. That certainly rattled us a little bit.
The sides traded chances as the game approached its second intermission, but it was Duggan’s pipe-pinging salvo with 20 seconds left that left the crowd gasping.
After 40 minutes of play, Wisconsin held a decisive but somewhat misleading 3-0 advantage. The Badgers tallied 16 shots in the frame to Mercyhurst’s 10, and prepared for a batten-down-the-hatches third period.
I think the team was excited to go into the second period. As weve seen this season, the second period seems to be our thing., said Lawler. And I guess we shouldve come out a little harder, but we were really excited – it might be a mental thing, I dont know – but when that second period hits, we all get extra excited because for some reason thats when they start to go in for us.
Wisconsin engraved its name in the title trophy three and a half minutes into the third, as Windmeier’s long rip from the right-wing point ticked off a Mercyhurst stick in front. The waist-high shot snapped away from Pattenden on the deflection, dusting the twine inside the right post. Knight