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Saturday, March 02, 2024

Watts plays hero, wins Wisconsin’s sixth national championship with overtime goal

"Let's talk to the hero," ESPN announcer Clay Matvick said.

She wasn't wearing a cape or tights, but Daryl Watts came to the rescue when Wisconsin needed her. 

After being held quiet for the first 60 minutes of play, the Patty Kazmaier Award finalist stepped up when it mattered most, scoring the game-winner in Wisconsin's 2-1 overtime victory over No. 1 Northeastern Saturday night for the school's sixth national championship.

* * * * * 

It was a quiet first period for both teams as everybody on the ice tried to find their footing in the championship game, the refs included.

Despite the aggressive play between the two teams — with plenty of bodies hitting the ice — not a single penalty was called in the opening 20 minutes of play, and the game headed into the second period with a scoreless tie.

It looked as though the referees talked about their lack of calls over that first intermission because they came out in the second period like they had just gotten shiny new whistles they wanted to try out. 

Wisconsin's Katie Kotlowski received the first trip to the sin bin, getting booked for a tripping penalty three minutes into the period. Two minutes after killing that penalty, the Badgers' power play unit had its first chance to score following a holding penalty on Northeastern's Alina Mueller. Wisconsin wouldn't get the privilege of the full two-minute player advantage, though, as Lacey Eden got called for an interference penalty with 30 seconds left in the Badger powerplay. 

The Wisconsin penalty kill unit managed to not allow a goal again but would have to come right back out after the Badgers were caught with six players on the ice just half a minute into five-on-five hockey. The period ended with six minutes of even-strength hockey, and the game went into the final 20 minutes of regulation still tied 0-0.

Freshman Makenna Webster, who scored the opener in Wisconsin's semifinal win over Ohio State, once again got the scoring started for the Badgers, collecting a rebound and putting the puck past NCAA Goaltender of the Year Aerin Frankel to give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead.

However, that lead wouldn't last long.

Northeastern's Chloé Aurard tied up the game 38 seconds later with a snipe past Wisconsin's Kennedy Blair.

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The tie would hold for the rest of the third period despite Northeastern getting another powerplay opportunity and Wisconsin's Lacey Eden hitting the post twice late in regulation.

Overtime between these two teams was far from uncharted territory. Fourteen months ago, a Caitlin Schneider goal was the catalyst for a Wisconsin 4-3 overtime win against Northeastern.

As I've said before, though, big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. There is no bigger game than a national championship, no bigger play than an overtime goal, and no bigger player than Daryl Watts.

Whether she meant to or not, Watts banked a shot off a Northeastern defender from behind the goal and got the puck into the back of the net to win the national championship game for the Badgers, 2-1. Number 19's 19th goal gave Wisconsin its record-tying sixth national championship.

* * * * * 

It feels poetic, a weird way to win a weird season. 

Wisconsin battled through starting the season without senior leader Natalie Buchbinder, stopping and starting play due to COVID-19, and playing without fans for the entire year, but getting that ring on the finger makes it all worth it. After not being able to defend their title last year due to the cancellation of the season, accomplishing what they've all been dreaming about since the first time they put on that Badger sweater has to feel extra rewarding.

"This is an unbelievable feeling," Watts said after the game. "I'm so happy for my teammates, I'm just so happy to share this moment with them and with my coaches, with my family. It's an incredible moment and we've worked so hard for this. 

“We've worked for the past two years. For some of us, this is our first national championship, it's what we've been working on since we started playing hockey." 

The Wisconsin Badgers are back-to-back national champions.

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