All season long No. 1 Wisconsin and North Dakota have played tough, physical—and at points chippy—games. With its season on the line, the Fighting Hawks gave the Badgers all they had, but it was UW who came out with the hard-fought 2-1 victory, thanks to junior forward Emily Clark’s ninth game-winning goal of the season.
"Every game we've played North Dakota since I've been here has been gritty and like playoff hockey, even during the regular season," Clark told UWBadgers.com. "It was no different today, and a battle right down to the end. Close games like that are going to come down to a little breakdown. [Sarah] Nurse had two people on her and saw me open and did a great job getting me the puck.”
Wisconsin (22-2-4 WCHA, 30-2-4 overall) missed a key opportunity to take charge of the game early after UND’s Sarah Lecavalier was thrown out of the contest with a game misconduct because of her hit on UW forward Presley Norby. That gave the Badgers a five-minute power play, which they couldn’t score on. Just seconds into the power play, it appeared the Badgers had scored, but UW was called for goalie interference, wiping out the goal. Thanks to numerous offside penalties, UW was only able to muster five shots on goal during the power play.
Penalties again loomed large after North Dakota was called for two, setting up a five-on-three opportunity for Wisconsin. Badger senior captain Sydney McKibbon took advantage and poked the puck past UND goalie Lexie Shaw for a 1-0 UW lead with 12:26 left in the second period.
North Dakota (11-12-5, 16-16-6), however, would answer. UND forward Amy Menke beat Badger goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens on a rush to tie the game at one. Desbiens had not allowed a goal in WCHA postseason play dating back to March 7 2015.
With just under three minutes left in the third period, Clark took a pass from fellow forward Sarah Nurse and slammed the puck past Shaw for the game-winner.
"The play slows down for me, as the puck is coming towards me,” Clark said. “I just tried to put everything I had behind it and was I fortunate it found the back of the net."
UND missed out on one last opportunity after pulling its goalie and UW was called for a penalty, when Rebekah Kolstad was thrown out with a major penalty and game misconduct, wiping out a potential six-on-four opportunity with under two minutes left in the game.
Desbiens recorded 18 saves, as the Badgers outshot the Fighting Hawks 49-19 in the contest.
"We have so much confidence in Ann-Renée," McKibbon said. "Even when we have breakdowns, 2-on-1s, we know she's going to have our back and stop the puck. She had another great game today. Sometimes she's not getting shots on net for minutes at a time, but she stays on her toes. Credit to her and the way she played today."
Wisconsin will face Minnesota-Duluth, who beat Minnesota 2-1 in double overtime, in the championship game Sunday at 2 p.m.
"Certainly happy with the win this afternoon," head coach Mark Johnson said. "I told the team if they were successful today, they'd get an opportunity to play for another trophy. I think we seized on that moment. Obviously it was a very tight game and was going to come down to somebody capitalizing on an opportunity. Emily Clark was able to do that, so we're excited to play again tomorrow for the playoff championship."