Thorougly Vetted

Wisconsin goaltender Jessie Vetter might need to make a shopping trip before leaving Boston after her Badgers team captured the National Championship with a 5-0 victory over Mercyhurst on Sunday. With all the hardware she’s taken from this trip, she’ll probably need a new suitcase to carry it back to Madison.

Vetter, who on Saturday morning was presented with the Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s most outstanding player, not only helped lead her team to its third national title in four years but did so in impressive fashion, posting a 32-save shutout and, on the way, earning the honor as tournament Most Outstanding Player.

The shutout was Vetter’s 14th of the season and 39th of her career as well as her 91st career victory – all NCAA records. And while the 5-0 score may not reflect the need for great goaltending, it was Vetter’s play early on that truly paced this victory.

In the opening period, Wisconsin was clearly on its heels. When Mercyhurst went on the power play at 5:33, it was Vetter who was called upon to make three huge saves to keep the game scoreless.

It would be nearly a full period later before Wisconsin could strike and when they did, they did so explosively, recording three goals in five minutes, 10 seconds to take any doubt out of what the final outcome would be.

At that point, the only question for most was whether Vetter could post yet another donut, and that was hardly any easy task when Mercyhurst plastered the fifth-year senior netminder with 18 shots in the final period.

“We were all sitting there with 5 or 6 minutes to go thinking wouldn’t it be nice if she didn’t just get a national championship trophy but also get her a shutout,” said Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson. “When she’s in a zone she’s seeing the puck it’s looking big.”

The puck could’ve looked like a beach ball by the time the game was 5-0, but in the early going, Vetter knew it rested on her shoulders to make sure she left her team in the position to win the game and the national title.

“We thought we could exploit them and we did in the first period, but we just didn’t capitalize,” said Mercyhurst head coach Mike Sisti. “Goals are momentum, especially if you get can get them against a team like Wisconsin which doesn’t give up a lot of them.”

“Vetter is a great goaltender and I think you’ve got to get on her early,” said Mercyhurst junior forward Meghan Agosta, a finalist alongside Vetter for the Kazmaier trophy. “We had some chances that we didn’t quite bury, but I thought she kept her team in it during some key chances where we could have got one or two. She was right there to stop us; she had a heck of a game and she’s a great goaltender.”

The ending was storybook for Vetter’s career but hardly one that you might have seen coming five years ago when she arrived in Madison . At that time, Johnson convinced her to red shirt as a freshman as his club was already very deep at the goaltender position. Meghan Horras, who posted 20 wins that year, and Christine Dufour, whose goals against average that season was less than a goal per game, were more than sufficient to handle the load.

The following year, as Horras was a senior and Dufour a junior, it was thought that Vetter could battle for some time in net. The start of the year, though, was rough as Vetter came down with mononucleosis upon arrival on campus and missed the first eight weeks of the season.

When Vetter finally returned to health in December, Johnson gave her a chance to prove her worth and in the second half of the season she and Horras split most of the time. But it was the NCAA tournament when Johnson realized that Vetter was his girl.

“It started with the quarterfinal game against Mercyhurst. We decided to go with her and she beat Mercyhurst in a double overtime game to get us to the Frozen Four,” said Johnson. “What we saw that evening was someone who was comfortable in that [national tournament] setting.”

Between that March evening in 2006 and Sunday afternoon in Boston , that comfort translated to one of the most impressive NCAA tournament resumes any player will ever have. Vetter led her team to four straight Frozen Fours and national title games. In eight Frozen Four games, Vetter allowed a grand total of six goals, including just one in Boston this weekend.

Of those eight goals, though, four were surrendered in last year’s NCAA title game against Minnesota-Duluth, a 4-0 loss for the Badgers and the only blemish on Vetter’s resume.

That, though, is what possibly made this weekend – complete with Kazmaier, MOP and NCAA championship trophies – more special.

“Obviously being in these types of games I love them, having the chance to help my team if they need it,” said Vetter. “If you’re playing for a trophy, it’s so much better. I’ve enjoyed my career and this was a great way to go out.”

With her college career now behind her, Vetter can set her sights on a bigger and better goal. Next winter, it’s likely that her and her head coach will be reunited as Johnson leads the U.S. Olympic team in the 2010 Vancouver games.

That will be Vetter’s chance to shine on a global stage. Though if she’s successful there, she won’t need a bigger suitcase to carry home the hardware. Olympic medals fit nicely around your neck.

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