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Wisconsin Wins WCHA Title in OT Thriller

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Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth met with the Julianne Bye Cup for the WCHA regular season title on the line and the game lived up to expectations.

After being presumptive favorites for the WCHA regular season title for the entire season, Wisconsin found themselves less than 120 seconds away from finishing second in the league after a second straight impressive upset bid by Minnesota Duluth.

The Bulldogs led 3-2 in the waning moments of the game, once again paced by a pair of goals from Gabbie Hughes, but with Wisconsin goalie Kennedy Blair pulled for an extra attacker, Brette Pettet was able to bat home a loose puck in front of the net to tie the game with 1:27 remaining and send the game to overtime.

The overtime clinched at least a share of the title for the Badgers, but 41 seconds into the extra frame, Daryl Watts won the title outright for the Badgers with the game-winning goal.

Final Scoring

First Period

7:07 Gabbie Hughes unassisted 1-0 Minnesota Duluth

Hughes intercepted a clearing attempt by Wisconsin at the blue line. She skated toward the left wing, toe-dragged to the net front and put a low shot underneath the pads of Kennedy Blair.

Second Period

4:14 Daryl Watts from Lacey Eden and Natalie Buchbinder 1-1 tie

Watts skated down the right wing and was able to get around the UMD defender and cut to the front of the net, where she scored around Emma Soderberg

12:11 Gabbie Hughes from Taylor Anderson and Ashton Bell 2-1 Minnesota Duluth

On a rush into the Wisconsin zone, Anderson dropped a pass to Hughes. Hughes put a shot on a net that was stopped, but she was able to follow the rebound and poke it in before Blair could cover it.

17:20 Anna Klein from Taylor Anderson and Maggie Flaherty 3-1 Minnesota Duluth

Anderson skated the puck into the Wisconsin zone on a 3-on-2 and found Klein on the backdoor for an easy goal.

17:43 Lacey Eden from Britta Curl and Grace Bowlby 3-2 Minnesota Duluth

Eden took a heavy wrist shot just a few strides inside the blue line that beat Soderberg

Third Period

18:33 Brette Pettet from Daryl Watts and Grace Bowlby 3-3 tie

Bowlby took a shot from the point that missed wide. Watts retrieved it behind the net and moved it to the front of the net, where Pettet was able to bat the loose puck into the net.

Overtime

0:41 Daryl Watts from Britta Curl 4-3 Wisconsin

On a 2-on-1, Watts faked a pass to open up room on the short side and beat Soderberg high for the game-winner.

Notes and Thoughts:

-What a heartbreaker for Minnesota Duluth. Though if we’re being honest, the right team probably won. Had the Bulldogs won the championship, it would have come with a huge asterisk. They only played six games against the Big 3 Big Ten schools, all at home, and were the only team in the top four of the league to lose to a team in the bottom three. The league likely wouldn’t have been as close if the schedules were more balanced. This weekend not withstanding, I think there is strong consensus that Wisconsin was the WCHA’s best team this year.

-Amidst a strong team effort by Minnesota Duluth, I can’t say enough about the effort by Gabbie Hughes to get the Bulldogs as close as they came. She had two goals last Saturday, including one with three seconds left to give UMD the opportunity this weekend, then had two goals in each game this weekend to get the Bulldogs so close to the title.

Hughes has been underappreciated nationally throughout her collegiate career, but hopefully this weekend opened some eyes about what she is capable of.

-It felt like one of the major turning points in this game came early in the first period when Emma Soderberg made a tremendous breakaway stop on Makenna Webster and UMD came down the ice for a Gabbie Hughes goal to take a 1-0 lead. That was a huge swing, especially since Wisconsin controlled the play for much of the game.

-Wisconsin carried a big advantage in shots on goal for the entire game, although for much of it, it felt like a lot of cheap easy saves, rather than really quality chances. It was probably a more even game than the numbers give credit for.

-As good as Wisconsin is, this series still showed some of their vulnerabilities, especially in defensive zone coverage. Most of Minnesota Duluth’s goals this weekend came off the rush when the Badgers missed assignments and left players wide open. They don’t have to defend very often, and they generally have enough talent that the mistakes aren’t fatal. But as we move into single elimination hockey, they don’t look unstoppable.

-Did this weekend change enough hearts and minds to push the Bulldogs into NCAA Tournament at-large consideration? It certainly helped a lot, especially with some other bubble teams looking shaky. They probably got themselves into a position where one win next weekend in the Final Faceoff probably does it.

-Wisconsin will face Minnesota in the first semifinal next weekend on March 6th at 1:07. Minnesota Duluth vs. Ohio State in the second semifinal at 5:07.