It was a fitting end to Senior Day Sunday afternoon at LaBahn Arena.
Wisconsin senior star Brianna Decker came up big with an overtime goal, earning UW a series sweep over University of Minnesota-Duluth and sending the women’s hockey senior class off victorious in their final home game in the regular season.
“It was a nice way to end Senior Day,” Decker said with a smile after the game.
The Badgers (19-9-2, 15-9-2-2 WCHA) found themselves tied 2-2 at the end of regulation Sunday after a dominating performance Saturday night that ended in a 3-1 victory over the Bulldogs (14-13-3, 13-12-1-0 WCHA).
Following a missed opportunity in the first overtime shift, Decker went into what would be the game’s last face-off, determined to put the game away. The center took control of the puck the moment it was dropped, skated around UMD’s center and buried it in the far corner of the net before anyone had a chance to react.
“I had the opportunity right before that … I really wanted to put it in and then a play went down at the other end and I thought they were going to finish it off,” Decker said. “I had an opportunity to score and I put it away and made it count and it felt pretty good.”
In winning the pair of games, UW also secured home ice for the WCHA playoffs that begin in March. For Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson, Decker’s goal was the perfect ending to his senior’s standout career at UW.
“It was a great way for her to finish her last regular season home game as a Badger so I was happy for her,” Johnson said. “I’m glad she got another opportunity and was able to get the puck in the net because that [missed opportunity] would have ate at her for a while. It was a great way to finish.”
What led to the overtime victory was an intense battle between the two conference foes. A slow start to the game for UW — likely due to the Senior Day presentation moment before the first face-off that had multiple Badger seniors in tears — gave way to an early Bulldog goal that was waved off due to a high stick. Wisconsin took commanding puck possession as time wore on, outshooting the Bulldogs 11-6 in the first period.
Decker got UW on the board 2:14 into the second period off a one-timer from inside the right circle. But UMD was quick to answer with an equalizing goal at 9:14 in the period. The dangerous Badger power play — which scored all three goals Saturday night — was given a chance late in the period but came up short, sending the team to the locker room tied after two.
An early goal came again in the third period, but this time it was UMD’s Jamie Kenyon on the power play, giving the Bulldogs their first lead of the series.
The Badgers showed no signs of defeat, putting 13 shots on net in the period. Finally, with 5:37 remaining in regulation, Blayre Turnbull caught Bulldogs’ goaltender Kayla Black off-guard with a quick shot from inside the right circle after a loose puck came her way from behind the net.
Turnbull’s goal gave Wisconsin and the sold-out LaBahn Arena new life. And when the overtime period finally came, Decker took over for one final encore.
“Any time you come away with a victory like we did you know we earned it,” Johnson said. “We were down 2-1 and you get down to seven or eight minutes in the third period, you are looking for something and we got a bounce and Blayre was able to capitalize.
“All the things that went on today were positive, we played well … we had a lot of good opportunities and a lot of scoring chances we just didn’t capitalize as much we would like to.”
Badgers bruise past Bulldogs 3-1 Saturday night
While Sunday’s game was intense in terms of the score, game one of the series was a different kind of intense with hard hits and a plethora of penalties dominating the ice.
Saturday night’s matchup from the start was action packed. A total of 10 penalties were assessed in just the first period of play as tensions ran high on both sides of the ice.
Following a pair of roughing calls and a high sticking penalty assessed to UMD’s Bridgette Lacquette, senior forward Alev Kelter notched one in during the four-on-three power play, giving the Badgers a 1-0 lead at 10:57 in the first period.
The Badgers added to their lead seven minutes into the second period with another power-play goal. Junior forward Madison Packer drilled the puck past Black to give UW a comfortable 2-0 lead.
Packer again found the back of the net on the power play in the third period after a shot by Decker deflected off Packer, who was waiting for a rebound on the far post.
The Bulldogs did not give up hope, scoring with under 1:30 remaining in the game. Bulldogs’ forward Aleksandra Vafina tapped in a puck that managed to get past sophomore goaltender Alex Rigsby. However, the last-ditch effort was too late, as UW held on to its lead and earned the win.
The Badgers have just one series left this coming weekend at Bemidji State before post-season play begins.