It wasn’t Hilary Knight who broke through with the WCHA championship game-winning goal in overtime on Saturday night against Minnesota. It wasn’t WCHA player of the year Meghan Duggan either. Even Brianna Decker could only be seen watching from the bench.
It was senior forward Kelly Nash and the third line who gave the Wisconsin women’s hockey team the victory and with it, the WCHA tournament title.
“My body froze right there, and I was literally in the same place where I took the shot. Everybody was yelling, and I just sat there and took it all in,” Nash said.
The WCHA’s top three scorers (Decker, Duggan and Knight) have done so much for the Badgers this season on both ends of the ice.
But recently it seems when the team has needed a lift in a big spot, the third line, made up of seniors Kelly Nash and Mallory Deluce and junior Carolyne Prevost, has given it to them.
“When that line is going it just creates a deeper pool of players for us to put on the ice,” head coach Mark Johnson said.
In the first game of the WCHA tournament against St. Cloud State, Wisconsin held a slim lead heading into the third period, and it was Prevost who supplied the big goals down the stretch to solidify the win.
Then, in the semifinal round of the WCHA tournament, Deluce and Prevost scored two of Wisconsin’s three goals to propel them to the championship round against Minnesota.
“It has been connecting, but up until the last two weeks we haven’t been producing as well as we’ve been playing,” Nash said. “So it’s really nice that its been paying off these last weekends.”
The gelling process didn’t happen overnight, as this year marked the first time the three Badgers had come together on the same line. But after a few successful series against Bemidji State and Mankato a few weeks ago, the trio started to figure things out.
“It took us a while to get going but I think now the chemistry has been right, and it’s great to see because it’s a crucial time of the year,” Prevost said.
Wisconsin will play its quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night at the Kohl Center against Minnesota Duluth. The controversial matchup comes as a surprise to the Badgers, as they believe they didn’t receive the protection all No. 1 seeds deserve.
“It is what it is, we can’t do anything about it now,” Prevost said. “Obviously we’re all a little shocked about it because we didn’t expect it.”
Regardless of the opponent, if Wisconsin scores like it has all season, it shouldn’t make any difference.
It’s no secret the Badgers (34-2-2) have drawn much of their success this season from the scoring abilities of Decker, Duggan and Knight. The first line has scored a total of 116 goals, which makes up for more than half of the team’s offensive production.
The Badgers missed that scoring last year while Duggan and Knight were away at the Olympics. At the end of the year, Wisconsin finished with a meager 18-15-3 record, missed the national tournament and was swept by Ohio State in the first round of the WCHA Tournament.
This year Decker, Duggan and Knight have combined for 234 points compared to the third line of Deluce, Nash and Prevost with 66.
“Obviously when you put Hilary [Knight] or Meghan [Duggan] or [Brianna] Decker out there people are going to pay attention and utilize their best players and the best defensive core and be on their toes,” Johnson said. “If you have a next wave and a next wave it just becomes more challenging.”
With the Badgers newfound production out of the third line, they have become a very deep team that can hurt an opponent in a lot of ways.
Don’t be surprised to see Deluce and Nash come through in big moments throughout the NCAA Tournament, as both are seniors. Each will play the final hockey game of their career either this weekend, or, should they win, next weekend in Erie, Pa.
“For me personally these are going to be my last games,” Nash said. “At this high of a level with a team as good as we have now, we just want to finish off at the top.”