The Wisconsin women’s hockey team (28-5-3, 17-4-3-0-2 WCHA) failed to capture their second straight Western Collegiate Hockey Association title as they faced off against University of Minnesota-Duluth (18-12-6, 11-8-5) as well as The Ohio State University Buckeyes (24-8-6, 13-6-5). With the WCHA being one of the most competitive conferences in all of collegiate hockey, it was never going to be an easy path forward for the Badgers regardless of their capabilities.
In Saturday’s matchup in Minneapolis, the Badgers handily dealt with the UMD Bulldogs on their way to an appearance in the conference title game. In unsurprising fashion, Abby Roque, Sophie Shirley and Daryl Watts provided the bulk of offensive production for the Badgers in this opening matchup.
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This trio is undoubtedly the core of the Badgers’ offensive unit and combined for three out of the four goals en route to a 4–1 victory. Caitlin Schneider also got in on the scoring action early in the second period — netting her ninth goal of the season.
All around, it was a solid performance in line with what the Badgers had achieved against UMD throughout the regular season. In their four contests against the Bulldogs prior to this meeting, the Badgers captured three wins, had one tie in the final game of the regular season and had an aggregate scoring margin of 18–11.
With a definitive victory in the semifinals of the tournament following a first round bye, the Badgers set their eyes on the now No. 5 ranked Buckeyes. Their record against the Buckeyes was much closer than that with the Bulldogs and the Buckeyes consistently posed a significant threat throughout the season.
The two teams traded wins in their final series of the regular season with the Badgers only securing a win in the second game by way of three-on-three overtime. In yet another game with a razor thin margin between the two teams that had to be decided in overtime, the Buckeyes came out just on top to capture the WCHA title.
En route to denying the Badgers their second straight conference title, the Buckeyes were on their heels for much of the game. The Badgers outshot them by 15 total shots on goal and effectively put pressure on Buckeye goalkeeper Andrea Braendli. Braendli was forced to make an astounding 41 saves to record the shutout and capture the title.
This game is the first time the Badgers have been shut out all season. In every other matchup, including those against Ohio State earlier in the season, the Badgers have consistently put up solid offensive numbers with significant contributions from their main offensive trio.
Watts, Roque and Shirley again lead the Badgers in total shots during their loss to the Buckeyes with 10, six and five shots, respectively. Yet, none of these efforts were enough to secure a single goal against the brick wall that was Braendli.
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The WCHA was always going to be tough to win, but the Badgers truly did play unlike they had throughout the rest of the season. Sluggish offensive production and late game mistakes are rarely part of a winning formula — or a championship formula for that matter.
Despite their loss, the Badgers will enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 seed in the nation with only Clarkson eclipsing them. They will begin their fight for a second straight national title against No. 7 Clarkson this Saturday at 2 p.m. in Madison.