MINNEAPOLIS — The Wisconsin Badgers backed up their WCHA regular season title with the league’s tournament title, but the playoff championship was much more closely contested. The Badgers (34-2-2, 24-2-2-2 WCHA) needed more than 74 minutes to win a game that they never led, earning Wisconsin their fourth WCHA tournament title, all since 2006.
Kelly Nash took a feed from Geena Prough in the slot and ripped a shot into the back of the Minnesota Gophers net for a 5-4 win at 14:11 of the extra session.
“I remember the shift before I tried to shoot the left side low blocker, and it wasn’t going to go, and I just thought might as well go the right side,” Nash said. “Coach always says just got to get it 12 inches over the pad.”
The goal was the wing’s third of her senior season.
“If you could pick one person that was going to score the overtime winner, I think that a lot of people in the locker room would have picked Kelly,” said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson.
Minnesota (26-9-2, 18-8-2-1 WCHA) has now lost their last seven postseason meetings with Wisconsin.
“Unfortunately, our ‘D’ was screening me, so I didn’t see the shot,” goalie Noora Räty said.
Down two entering the final period, Wisconsin rallied, first on a goal that Madison Packer batted out of midair with 6:22 remaining. Senior captaion Meghan Duggan got her second of the game on a redirection just over two minutes later, and the teams went to the extra session, which the Badgers dominated, outshooting the Gophers 12-2.
“Coach came into the locker room between the second and third period and he just said we’re going to win this game,” Duggan. “And I knew we were going to win the game, too. We play great on this ice here, and we’re a team that’s not just going to roll over and die.”
Of late, the Badgers have been playing great everywhere, as they are unbeaten in their last 24 games, going 22-0-2 over that stretch.
“I felt like through 50 minutes there we were the better team,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “We really pushed the pace against the No. 1 team in the country.”
Four seconds after a Gophers power play ended and before the Badger from the penalty box could get back into the play, Megan Bozek put a shot on goal from the right point and Sarah Erickson tipped it by Alex Rigsby at 9:46 for the game’s first goal.
Nearly six minutes later, Erickson got a stick on a Jen Schoullis centering pass and although Rigsby got a lot of the puck, she was unable to keep it from rolling over the goal line before she could retrieve it and Minnesota led 2-0.
“That was all thanks to Schoullis,” Erickson said. “She just worked her butt off all game.”
Wisconsin had Minnesota scrambling in their own end, but when they finally broke out of their own zone, Sarah Davis busted up the right wing and snapped a shot under the crossbar and Minnesota was up three.
Wisconsin answered quickly on a power play, with Brianna Decker jamming away at a puck in the crease until Räty, puck, and all were in the net.
“Räty is a great goalie, so we knew to just keep getting shots on net,” Decker said.
Immediately after a review determined the goal to be good, Hilary Knight found Duggan cruising down the slot and Wisconsin was back in the game at 3-2.
Schoullis scored a crucial goal, banging in a setup from Kessel from the doorstep to restore a two-goal lead for Minnesota that stood up until the late Badgers heroics.
Räty, who faced 56 shots on the night, said it didn’t feel like that many.
“They took shots from everywhere, and that’s their style of playing,” Räty said.
Rigsby made 26 stops for the Badgers.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Wisconsin deserves the No. 1 ranking,” Frost said. “We had them tonight, and it got away from us. Our young team gained some very valuable experience tonight, something that you can’t teach, you have to go through it to learn from it and to get better, and I know this team will, but I couldn’t be more proud.”
Minnesota awaits Sunday’s NCAA bracket announcement to learn their tournament site and opponent.
“We’re going to let this one sit in for a while, a couple of days, and then get back to practice and do whatever is necessary to win from here on, whether it be Friday or Saturday, home or away,” Erickson said.
Wisconsin knows that they’ll be home, but the visiting team will be determined by Sunday’s Hockey East championship game with Northeastern trying to earn an auto bid and gain entry into the field.
“Dave Flint was one of my assistant coaches last year,” Johnson said. “I spent six and a half months with him. We played them at the Christmas tournament up in St. Cloud. The teams that move on and will be competing next weekend will be well-deserved and capable of winning the whole tournament.”
The WCHA All-Tournament Team featured Badger forwards Nash and Duggan, defenseman Prough, and Minnesota forward Amanda Kessel, defenseman Megan Bozek, and goaltender Räty. Decker was the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player.