MINNEAPOLIS, MN. --- After all of Wisconsin's top guns had fired and fired 55 times to get the Badgers back into the WCHA Women's Final Faceoff championship game, it was left to light-scoring senior Kelly Nash to shoot the 56th Badger shot at 14:11 of overtime to lift the Badgers to a 5-4 victory over Minnesota Saturday night.
Minnesota scored the first three goals of the game, and had a 4-2 lead after two, but Wisconsin's No. 1 ranked Badgers scored the last three. Madison Packer and Meggan Duggan scored third-period goals to tie the game in the final seven minutes, and Nash, a third-line right wing from Bonita, Calif., just back this weekend after missing several games with an injury, caught a pass from Geena Prough in the slot and quickly snapped a shot that looked as good as anything her more prolific teammates might have fired. The puck zipped past the screening body of defenseman Anne Schleper and past Noora Raty to hit the right edge and bring a stunning ending to the league playoff final.
"This is incredible. It's exciting for us," said Duggan, whose two goals in the game boost her season tally to 37. "I couldn't be happier that Kelly scored that goal. We were down 2-0 and it was deflating, but I knew we had it in us."
Wisconsin outshot Minnesota 56-30 for the game, and once the Badgers started rallying in the third period, it became a question of whether Golden Gopher goaltender Raty could hold off the relentless Wisconsin shooters. She almost pulled it off.
"I didn't see the shot," said Raty, a sophomore from Finland. "The pass came from the corner, and our 'D' screened me. It happens."
Both Wisconsin (34-2-2) and Minnesota (26-9-2) are assured of getting a Sunday invitation to the eight-team NCAA tournament, and both are virtually certain to be at home for next weekend's quarterfinals. But that's for the future; the intensity of the Final Faceoff title game will last for both teams.
"I've got to give our players a lot of credit," said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson. "There were a couple of points in the game when we could have moved on to next week. But we took some eneregy from the last 6-8 minutes of the third period and carried it over to overtime. Then to have Kelly score that goal, it's great because her parent are here, and it gives her something to take away from this."
For the second straight game, Minnesota was the lower seed and had to wear the visiting maroon jerseys on its home Ridder Arena ice. At the start, it appeared the Gophers should consider switching permanently, because for the second straight game they played with offensive precision to take early command of the game. Just as they had done in beating Minnesota-Duluth 4-2 in Friday's semifinals, when they spotted UMD a 1-0 lead and then scored four consecutive goals, the Gophers were able to disrupt the usually slick-passing Badgers, and Sarah Erickson personally staked them to a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.
Wisconsin took the game's first two penalties, and just four seconds after the second one expired, the Gophers struck for the first goal. Erickson was stationed in the slot and got a clean deflection on Megan Bozek's shot from the left point, directing it past goalie Alex Rigsby at 9:46. Five minutes later, Minnesota killed a penalty, and at 15:38, Erickson cut left-to-right across the slot, scoring for a 2-0 lead.
"Jen Schoullis was working hard to get the puck in the corner, as usual, and she threw it at the net," said Erickson. "I got my stick on it, and it hit the pipe and kinda went in before she (Rigsby) covered it up."
Wisconsin needed to get its explosive offense untracked in the second period, but instead, Sarah Davis caught a pass from fellow-freshman Kelly Terry and sped up the right boards. Remarkably, she outflanked the retreating Badger defense and kept on skating all the way to the net, scoring from close range to make it 3-0 at 10:20. The game was half over, but nobody anticipated the issue was settled, even at 3-0.
"Obviously, up 3-0, losing the game is not ideal," said Erickson.
Wisconsin stormed back, finally breaking through Raty's strong goaltending display. It took a power play to get the Badgers going, as Brianna Decker scored her 33rd of the season on a wild tangle at the crease at 14:34. "Raty is a great goaltender, and we were a little nervous," said Decker.
Suddenly, just 38 seconds later, Badger scoring leader Duggan converted a neat set-up at the goal-mouth to close it to 3-2.
"Anytime you score a goal it creates energy," said Johnson.
But Minnesota regained its composure, and a two-goal lead, when Schoullis scored on a scramble at the crease at the other end of the rink with 1:47 left in the middle period. That was a huge goal, because at 4-2, it gave Minnesota a 2-2 standoff for the period, despite being ouotshot 16-4 by Wisconsin.
However, the third period saw the Badgers increase pressure, and the victory became a question of whether the Gophers could hold off all that firepower as the Badgers outshot them 18-9 in the third period. They did an admirable job of weathering the pressure for 13 minutes, but at 13:38, the Badgers kept the puck in on the left side, and Madison Packer swatted the puck out of the air to scored from the right edge and trim the score to 4-3.
Barely a minute later, the determined Badgers tied the game, as Duggan scored her second of the game and 37th of the season. Fittingly, the WCHA Women's player of the year extended the Final Faceoff championship game to overtime. And, perhaps more fittingly, a popular senior just back from an injury, won it.
Nash, Duggan lead all-tournament team
Wisconsin's Brianna Decker was named most valuable player of the WCHA Women's Final Faceoff tournament, while three of her teammates were named to the six-player all-tournament team. Kelly Nash, whose goal in overtime carried Wisconsin to a 5-4 victory over Minnesota in the title game, after getting two assists in the 3-0 semifinal victory over North Dakota, was joined by teammates Meghan Duggan, who scored twice in the final to force overtime, and defenseman Geena Prough. Minnesota goaltender Noora Raty, who faced 56 shots in the title game, after beating Minnesota-Duluth 4-2 on Friday, was also named, along with Gophers forward Amanda Kessel, and defenseman Megan Bozek.