Sometimes, the sixth time is the charm.
Playing in its sixth-straight Frozen Four, facing off against rival Minnesota for the sixth time this season, Wisconsin came out strong on Sunday in Hamden, CT and captured the program’s first national title since 2011 with a 2-0 win.
The Badgers had come into the Frozen Four as the favorite several times in recent years, but the puck always seemed to bounce their opponents’ way.
This time — on the biggest stage, against their biggest rivals — it gave them exactly what they wanted.
Wisconsin’s players couldn’t wait for the final buzzer to sound to start the celebrations. Junior defender Mekenzie Steffen’s gloves and stick were the first to go flying, followed quickly by goaltender Kristen Campbell and senior forward Annie Pankowski, who embraced in front of the net as the seconds ticked down. By the time their gear had landed, the title was official.
The team scoring the first goal had won the last seven matchups between the two teams, and fittingly it was a pair of Minnesotans who connected for the game-winner.
Just over 10 minutes into the game, Minnetonka, MN native Presley Norby took a rebound and circled around the left slot before dropping behind the goal. The Gopher defense collapsed on Norby, leaving Wayzata, MN native Sophia Shaver a clean lane to drive to the goal.
Norby found Shaver with a tape-to-tape pass, and moments later the puck was in the back of the net.
Minnesota’s best chances to tie it up came early in the second period on a pair of Wisconsin penalties. Three minutes into the frame senior defender Maddie Rolfes was called for a trip, but a combination of key saves and big blocks kept the lead intact
Four minutes later freshman forward Britta Curl stood up a Minnesota defender with an illegal cross-check, but things went south for the Gophers on the ensuing penalty.
Minnesota defender Emily Brown attempted to bring the puck out of the defensive zone, but had her pocket picked by junior forward Abby Roque. Roque held the puck for a moment before dishing to Pankowski, who swept in on net and roofed a short-side backhand over Minnesota netminder Alex Gulstene’s shoulder.
The goal marked the ninth career shorthanded tally for Pankowski, a school record, and her third goal of the weekend.
Minnesota fought back, but never strung together a dominant run of play after Pankowski’s goal.
In the second intermission, reporters from both Wisconsin and Minnesota predicted that the Gophers would come out swinging in the third period.
That pressure never really materialized, as Minnesota managed to go shot-for-shot with the Badgers but failed to create sustained pressure on the Wisconsin net at the moment it needed to most.
Even an extra skater couldn’t do the trick for the Gophers, and they were unable to manage a single shot on goal in the two minutes and 12 seconds after they pulled Gulstene.
Wisconsin couldn’t tack on another in the final 31 minutes, but it didn’t need to. Shaver and Pankowski’s tallies stood up as more than enough, and all that was left for the Badgers was to pour out onto the ice after the buzzer in jubilant celebration.
Campbell made 27 saves in the win, 10 in the final period, and extended her shutout streak to 210 minutes. The junior netminder became just the second goaltender to go all three games in the NCAA tournament without allowing a goal and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, a massive turnaround from her struggles earlier in the year.
Campbell wasn’t the only Wisconsin player who struggled at points throughout the year, during a season in which multiple Badgers players said they faced more adversity than the team is accustomed to. She wasn’t the only player whose tournament performance quieted many of those concerns either.
This team wasn’t the best, or the most dominant Wisconsin squad of the last several years. But ultimately, it was the only one that ended the season with a win.