The No. 2 University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team (34-4-2, 19-1-2 WCHA) defeated both No. 9 Ohio State (20-13-2, 12-10-0) and No. 1 Minnesota (30-5-1, 19-4-1) in Minneapolis over the weekend to claim its fourth WCHA title in five years.
The Badgers began their title campaign against the Ohio State Buckeyes Saturday in a nail-biting 3–2 victory. Support came early from the team’s younger stars, as freshman Britta Curl and WCHA Freshman of the Year Sophie Shirley provided two goals over the first two periods for the Badgers.
Ohio State responded to Curl’s first period goal with a goal of their own and would go on to open scoring in the second period, giving them a 2–1 lead until Shirley netted the game-tying goal.
Captain Annie Pankowski closed things out by scoring the game’s final goal with under five minutes remaining. With that game-winner, Pankowski acquired her 200th career point, a mark surpassed by only five other players in team history.
The Buckeyes had given the Badgers a tough go of things over the regular season. Wisconsin only managed to defeat them once during the regular season, but they came through when it counted most, advancing to the championship game. After a Minnesota victory over Minnesota-Duluth, Sunday became the fifth Border Battle of the season.
Sunday’s final started off as well as the Badgers could have hoped for, as sophomore forward Caitlin Schneider opened up scoring before the ten-minute mark in the first period. Goalie Kristen Campbell held the Gophers at bay for the rest of the period.
The second period began much as the first did with another early goal, this time from Curl. After seizing a 2–0 lead, the Badgers sat back on defense and engaged less on offense. Throughout the third period, the Badgers took only four shots on net compared to the Gophers’ nine.
Minnesota was able to sneak one past Campbell halfway through the second period, but it would not be enough to rattle the Badger defense as the game continued. Despite a third period in which the Gophers took their highest number of shots in the game, the Badger defense held steady and even fended off their opposition a skater down following the exit of Minnesota goalie Sydney Scobee.
In a fittingly triumphant ending to the potentially final Border Battle of the season, Pankowski — the WCHA Player of the Year — scored an open-netter at the 19-minute mark to give the Badgers a 3–1 lead and cement the game’s final score, giving UW yet another WCHA Conference title under Head Coach Mark Johnson.
Though he’s no stranger to the moment, Johnson did not take away from his team’s achievement.
“I’m happy for them, you watch them celebrate, it’s a long-grinding season and anytime you get an opportunity to play for a trophy and then win it, it’s special,” Johnson said. “They’re going to have some memories that they’ll be able to take away from this season and it’ll put a smile on their face, so I’m very happy with the way they played and certainly happy that we’re taking the trophy back to Madison.”
With the WCHA title under their belt, the Badgers jumped to No. 1 in the country and earned the lone No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin will face off against Syracuse in the quarterfinal round of the tournament this Saturday at LaBahn Arena at 2 p.m.