The sky high standards of the Wisconsin women’s hockey program make it seem like it has been an eternity since the last time it played in the Frozen Four. After going to the NCAA championship game back in 2012, the Badgers didn’t even make into the tournament last season and Friday night they were trying to prevent a two year Frozen Four drought, what would have been the first two year absence in almost 10 years. But thanks to the timely play of the first forward line and the mesmerizing play of senior goaltender Alex Rigsby the Badgers trumped Harvard 2-1 and punched their ticket to next weekend’s Frozen Four in Hamden, Conn.
Wisconsin held a 2-0 lead late into the third and final period, but Harvard trimmed the lead in half when it scored with just 3:23 left in the game, pushing the Badgers to the edge as head coach Mark Johnson pointed out after the game.
“It’s never easy to win this quarterfinal game. So I thought we came out with good energy, played well and earned a hard-fought victory,” Johnson said. “Compliment to Harvard, not only on their season, but certainly making a real strong push there in the third period. We were able to withstand it and we live to see another day and have the opportunity to go to the Frozen Four.”
Not only did Wisconsin move on to the Frozen Four, but in the win several key milestones were hit by two Badgers with their performances, both of which were key to the victory.
In the first period, redshirt junior Brittany Ammerman reached her milestone by setting up the critical first goal of the game to put Wisconsin up 1-0 16:56 into the game.
Ammerman lugged the puck to the right goal line and, instead of shooting, waited for space to clear in the low slot and fed Blayre Turnbull. Upon receiving the pass Turnbull promptly slammed the puck home into a nearly wide open cage after Crimson goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer (42 saves) had moved out of position to try to stop Ammerman.
The playmaking ability of Ammerman on the play to fool Maschmeyer was hardly a matter of luck, as she had worked during the week to simulate Maschmeyer’s tendency to come farther out of her net with Badgers’ back up netminder Ann Renee Desbiens. Ammerman used the preparation to her advantage, faking as if she was going to shoot on Maschmeyer to draw her out of the net and then passing the biscuit off to Turnbull.
The other milestone came for Rigsby who, with her stellar play throughout the game including a diving stick save in the third period to keep Wisconsin ahead by two, earned her 100th career victory. That 100-digit win total is something only two other goaltenders have accomplished in the history of women’s college hockey.
In answering a question about her milestone, Ammerman deflected the praise onto the well-deserving Rigsby and the more important idea of the night.
“It’s awesome that we got 100 wins for Alex [Rigsby] and 100 points for me and now we’re going to the Frozen Four for the third time in our career. It’s exciting. I was just saying, ‘We’re going back, we’re going back.’ It’s been a while, since sophomore year, so I’m excited,” Ammerman said.
Wisconsin secured the win with the game-winning goal that came almost exactly a period after it had struck for the first goal in the game. Defenseman Kelly Jaminski started the play when she walked down the slot and fired a shot that got blocked away by the Harvard defense. But to the good fortune of the Badgers, the loose puck was scooped up in front of the net by Katy Josephs who fired it past Maschmeyer for the 2-0 lead, which the Badgers would take into the second intermission.
After being dominated for the first 40 minutes of play, the Crimson came back stronger in the third period of play and got many great looks at the cage. Thankfully though for Rigsby and the Badgers, they got several lucky bounces that kept the puck out of the net.
“Well, if you see enough hockey you know pucks are going to bounce funny. It happens quite a bit in the game and sometimes one team might get more bounces and breaks than the other team, but over the course of the season, those things generally even themselves out,” Johnson said, making reference to how Wisconsin has found itself on the wrong side of the bounces before Friday’s game.
Not only did Wisconsin get some lucky hops of the puck, but it also got some outstanding goaltending from Rigsby who came up with multiple big saves in the third period, 23 in the game, and probably none bigger than this save in the third.
“I got caught up with someone in front of the net, so I saw her, saw the puck get passed across and the girl was taking the shot and it was just a desperation save,” Rigsby said. “Used that hand-eye coordination and dropped down with my stick and was lucky enough to have it pop in to my glove at the same time. So it was definitely a lucky and desperation save. It’s rewarding when you see the player’s face too, the one who got robbed.”
Harvard foiled Rigsby’s shot at the shutout when it finally broke into the scoring column with just under four minutes to play. Unfortunately, it was too little too late as Wisconsin continued to control the pace of the game and didn’t allow Harvard any good looks at the net when it pulled Maschmeyer for the extra attacker.
With the win Wisconsin moves on to the National Semifinal against Minnesota, and will try to topple the Gophers for the first time since 2011 and win its first title since the same year.