Drive for five: Wisconsin must avoid slow start, miscues in National Championship

To clinch their fifth national title, the Badgers will have to jump out to a quick start.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Get pucks to the net and good things will happen. It’s nearly a piece of hockey gospel; a line repeated ad nauseam by players and coaches as a way to deal with the luck inherent in their sport.

And if getting pucks to the net is gospel, then Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson is one of the primary disciples. Under Johnson, the No. 1 Badgers (22-2-4 WCHA, 33-2-4 overall) lead the country with 41.3 shots per game. Through 39 games this season the Badgers have been outshot just once.

Those shots have given Wisconsin the nation’s most prolific offense, averaging 4.03 goals per game, and have allowed the Cardinal and White to ring up huge totals on teams like Minnesota State and Robert Morris.

But in the second half of the season, the Badgers have, at times, struggled to score against top teams, even when outshooting the opponent by 2-to-1 or greater margins. In their final regular season series against Minnesota, the Badgers put 69 shots on goaltender Sidney Peters but came away with only one goal.

That problem reappeared for Wisconsin in Friday night’s semifinal against Boston College. UW outshout BC 31-10 in the final two periods, but failed to get one past Eagles’ goaltender Katie Burt until Mellissa Channell’s slapshot with 17 seconds remaining found an empty corner of the net.

Like BC, Clarkson (19-1-2 ECAC, 31-4-5) sports a Top 5 defense, and the Badgers will need to get high-quality shots to beat goalie Shea Tiley.

“I think it can be frustrating when you're getting a lot of shots but they're not going in the net,” senior captain Sydney McKibbon said. “We need to just focus on making sure we have traffic, getting people driving the net and making sure there are rebounds and finding different ways to score.”

When the two teams met in October, Clarkson managed three goals in two games. With another performance from Wisconsin like the one against Boston College, just a goal or two could be enough for the Golden Knights to win their second national title.

Sunday’s game will be the first chance at a national championship for these Wisconsin players, and while they’ve never been in this exact position, three previous years of Frozen Four experience have prepared the Badgers for this moment.

“I think the team's excited, I know our seniors are excited. They got over the hurdle and they put themselves in a position to play for the national championship,” Johnson said. “We're excited to be in the position we're in.”

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