ERIE, Pa. – Daryl Watts banked a shot off a Northeastern defender from behind the net in overtime to give the Wisconsin Badgers back-to-back national championships and the sixth title in program history.
Watts, who was responsible for the game-winner in three of Wisconsin’s four overtime wins this year, rose to the occasion yet again and made her own dreams come true. The senior transferred to Wisconsin after her sophomore season at Boston College, saying she’d lost her passion for the game and was looking for a place where she thought she could win a national championship.
Badger captain, senior Brette Pettet said the goal Watts scored was indicative of just how much fun she’s having on the ice. Few players would try something so would even think of attempting a goal like that, much less with the title on the line in sudden-death overtime.
“I think that’s one thing you can appreciate about Daryl. She’s just going to go out there and have fun. I think that’s one of the reasons she’s so good. She’s not afraid to make mistakes. I think when you’re playing like that mixed with the pure talent she has, it’s a good recipe,” said Pettet. “I can’t even explain it. Daryl has the ability to score when no one else does. I’m not sure what it is she’s got, but she’s got it.”
It was a heartbreaking way to end a spectacular game that pitted the top two seeds in the country that were clearly evenly matched. The game was scoreless for more than fifty minutes before each team litl the lamp within the course of a minute.
Then less than four minute into overtime, Watts found herself with the puck and time behind the net. The Huskies did a good job cutting off passing lanes and protecting the net front, but they didn’t put pressure on Watts and that gave her time to check out her options and choose a daring play that didn’t work quite as she planned – she thought the puck would carom off Northeastern goalie Aerin Frankel. She found out in post-game interviews that instead, it deflected off the back of defender Megan Carter. Either way, the puck ended up in the back of the net to win the game.
For Northeastern, the unbelievable goal ended one of the best seasons in program history in a way that didn’t feel fitting for the moment.
“I wish it was a better goal that ended that game. But that’s the way it goes,” said Northeastern coach Dave Flint. “I feel like (our players) deserved better than that. But that’s sports.”
The teams spent the first period feeling each other out and trading possession without either team able to mount much of anything dangerous. At the end of the frame, shots were tied at nine apiece. But from there, the Badgers started to take over. They held the puck, were strong on the fore- and backcheck and generally kept Northeastern from getting set up in the zone or build out from their net.
Flint said after the game that he wanted his team to get more “grade A” chances on Wisconsin goalie Kennedy Blair, but the Badgers kept them from finding space to do so.
“Wisconsin did a really good job of keeping us out (from in front of the net) and not letting us jump on rebounds. They made it difficult for us all night,” he said.
On the other end, Wisconsin forced Huskies goalie Aerin Frankel to make a season-high 35 saves.
The Badgers scored first when freshman Makenna Webster scored her second of the Frozen Four of a pass from Casey O’Brien, her third assist of the weekend. As close a match as it had been, it seemed like that one goal might be enough to win the game, but Northeastern left no doubt that they weren’t done by responding 39 seconds later. Alina Mueller dug the puck out along the back boards and dropped a pass to Aurard, who was charging in to help. She placed a gorgeous shot from the faceoff circle to beat Blair and tie the game back up.
Both teams had a number of chances, particularly late. Freshman Casey O’Brien served a bench minor for too many players on the ice midway through the second. She had a breakaway as she came out of the box when the penalty was killed and just couldn’t find the little bit of daylight past the outstretched leg of Frankel. Wisconsin hit the post a number of times throughout the game, but freshman Lacey Eden did it twice in the waning minutes of regulation.In overtime, it looked like Chloe Aurard was going to be her team’s savior once again, but Nicole LaMantia raced back to get between Aurard and Blair in net to prevent a pass or a goal.
The overtime period was comfortable territory for Wisocnsin, who needed extra time to win their conference title in the final game of the regular season and to win the conference tournament crown a week later.
“We faced adversity at all levels. We just had a lot of confidence in one another,” said Watts.
The loss ended a 22 game unbeaten streak for the Huskies in addition to their hopes for the first ever national championship for the university. But Flint said losing the last game of the season will not be the legacy of this team.
“They set a new standard for Northeastern women’s hockey and it won’t be the last time we’re here,” said Flint. “(Going to the Frozen Four) is the new expectation for our program. This was just another hurdle.”
With the win, Wisconsin tied Minnesota for most titles in DI women’s hockey history. Mark Johnson also became the only coach to ever win six championships. With the cancellation of the 2019-2020 NCAA tournament due to the coronavirus, the Badgers, who won the 2019 National Championship, are now back-to-back winners – it’s just been nearly two years between titles.
The goal was Watts’ 240the career point, which places her 14th on the list of most career points in the NCAA.
Webster was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Caitlin Schneider, who Johnson said had confounded opponents with her speed this week, was also named to the All-Tournament Team.