ST. CHARLES, Mo. — It wasn’t supposed to end this way for the Wisconsin women’s hockey team. The nation’s top-ranked team—statistically and in the polls all season—which also had the best player in women’s hockey fell short of a national championship Sunday afternoon as No. 2 Clarkson defeated the top-seeded Badgers 3-0.
Clarkson’s Cayley Mercer scored two goals as the Golden Knights won their second national title.
"Obviously we're disappointed with the outcome, but the kids played hard, they played well, they created opportunities, so I'm very proud of their effort,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “Whether it's women's college hockey or the NHL or men's college hockey, sometimes it's tough to score, it's tough to get pucks to net … I'm proud of the way that we played. It's just, for whatever reason, the pucks don't go in some nights and for this afternoon's game it just didn't go in for us."
The Badgers (33-3-4) started the first period with better energy than they did in Friday’s semifinal win, outshooting Clarkson (32-4-5) 6-3 in the period. However, late in the first period, Badger defenseman Mikaela Gardner was called for tripping—a penalty that would prove costly.
27 seconds into the start of the second period, Clarkson defenseman Savannah Harmon beat Wisconsin goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens for a power-play goal to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead.
Midway through the second period, Wisconsin appeared to have had tied the game up at one, but UW forward Emily Clark was called for interference, wiping out the equalizer.
"You can pick different moments; looked like we scored a goal but came out of it with a penalty against us and we can sit here and say, 'if about that' and 'if about this,’” Johnson said. “When you get to the finish line, we didn't do enough things to win the hockey game."
UW had plenty of chances to tie the game up in the second and third periods, but it was Clarkson that put the game out of reach late in the final stanza as Mercer netted her second goal on a 2-on-1 rush. The Golden Knights would later add an empty-netter to punctuate an impressive team performance.
Clarkson goalie Shea Tiley was fantastic for the Golden Knights, stopping all 41 Badger shots while shutting out the nation’s No. 1 offense.
"I think hockey just has a funny way of humbling you,” junior forward Annie Pankowski said. “When you think you're doing well and you have all the things going in the right way, it reminds you that not everything is perfect. I'm really proud of this group and we laid it out there … you can't ask for much more."
For a senior class that had accomplished so much in their careers but never quite captured a national title, Sunday’s loss was hard to swallow.
"It's definitely tough. Obviously four years are up, flew by, it was an incredible time,” senior captain Sydney McKibbon said. “But unfortunately when you don't win your last game it's a little bit of a disappointment. This is going to sting, definitely, for a while.”
Over the course of the season, UW outshot Clarkson 41-20, but the only score that mattered at the end of the day was 3-0.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow when you lose this game,” Johnson said. “You're so close to the end, but as time goes on and they reflect on the season, it was a special group. It was a special season; they're going to have some great memories to reflect on, so I'm certainly proud of that.”