In one of the best games of the season, the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers overcame the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes 3-2 to take home the WCHA Final Face-off championship.
This game featured the usual two-pronged approach that the Badgers have thrived off of this season: The team’s veterans continued to show out, but brilliant performances from the younger players were able to make the difference.
WCHA Player of the Year Daryl Watts continued to make the case for the Patty Kazmaier award, scoring both of the Badgers’ regulation goals in the second period.
Goaltender Kennedy Blair continued her excellent season, stopping 18 of 20 shots from reaching the back of the net to improve her save percentage to .931 on the season.
But the final blow was struck by Freshman Forward Lacey Eden, who not only assisted both of Watts’ goals, but sealed the game with an overtime goal after only 42 seconds of play.
Head Coach Mark Johnson gave high praise to Eden and the other young players for being able to step up in crunch time.
"She's earned her time,” Johnson said of Eden. “She's played very well in the period of time that she's been with us. She's scored some big goals prior to tonight. You look at players and their willingness to earn more playing time and get put on a power play and maybe kill a penalty. It's just the process of us getting to know her and her getting to know us. I couldn't be happier for her."
After a stellar season, Eden commented on how the chemistry on the team has been able to propel them to where they are now.
"It's been an amazing experience so far and I'm so excited for the future,” Eden said. “Everything about it has been surreal. Everyone accepted me onto the team right away and we've just gotten so close over the past couple of months. Every single day in practice everybody is giving 100 percent, everybody wants to be there, everybody is so focused on the goal and that's such a special environment to be in. There's nothing quite like it."
The Badgers made an excellent case for why they will be the team to beat during the NCAA tournament. Not only did the Badgers show off their grittiness in crunch time on the offensive side of the ice, but on the defensive side as well. The Badgers put up a nearly unbeatable penalty kill through six minutes, staving off 4-3, 5-3 and 5-4 disadvantages to keep the game tied.
The next step for UW is the NCAA tournament, and Daryl Watts and the Badgers are looking forward to defending their title.
"I think this team, we're so deep... we've got so many skilled players,” Watts said postgame after the victory. “Even more than that, we get along so well off the ice. I couldn't be happier to be part of this team. I really like our chances."
In a controversial decision, the Badgers were selected to be the number two seed in the NCAA tournament, despite finishing out the year ranked number one in the country and winning the WCHA tournament. They will face Providence on Mar. 16.