MINNEAPOLIS — Wipe out the records. Forget the past. It’s postseason play, and years of hard work are on the line. It’s also a time when you look for senior leadership to shine.
Wisconsin senior captain Baylee Wellhausen shone for the top-ranked UW women’s hockey team (30–3–2) in a 4–1 victory over Bemidji State at the WCHA Final Faceoff in Ridder Arena on Saturday with her eighth, ninth, and 10th goals of the season.
When it was time to take credit for her success, Baylee deferred to her teammates.
“I think the team worked really hard though,” Wellhausen said. “We fought to the very end.”
As the puck dropped on the postseason, the Badger Band reminded all in attendance that “Bemidji’s not a state!” Forty seconds later, Abby Roque and Wellhausen reminded those in attendance that they’re really good at hockey. Roque gained the offensive zone with some nice stick-handling and quickly found Wellhausen wide open a mere five feet in front of Bemidji freshman goaltender Kerigan Dowhy. That’s a match-up Wisconsin will take 10 out of 10 times, and the senior captain buried it for the Badgers.
Here's a look at Wellhausen's goal as Roque and Gardner picked up s pic.twitter.com/tVAyIzucn2— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerWHockey) March 3, 2018
But the atmosphere for Buckingham U. Badger got a lot chillier. Bemidji started to shift the tide of the game, and Ridder fell silent. The Beavers started with slowing the Badgers; attack, then earning breakaways and finally controlling possession. The first period ended with BSU earning a power play and showering UW goalie Kristen Campbell with five shots, and the fifth was a game-tying deflection by Emma Terres.
Heading into the first-period break, Wisconsin needed to regroup holding a 1–1 tie.
Bemidji continued to hold Wisconsin hostage until Wellhausen broke free on a penalty kill, and she once again stared down Dowhy. Remember what I said about taking Wellhausen in this match-up 10 out of 10 times? Well, she made it two out of two times, and she buried her second goal of the game. And, once again, WCHA offensive player of the year Roque found Wellhausen to earn her second assist of the day.
“Abby’s pass was awesome,” Wellhausen said.
Wisconsin continued to add the pressure and turn up the heat through the second period, but Dowhy continued to keep Bemidji in the game with miracle save after miracle save.
The third period started with the band playing “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” and Wisconsin needed 20 minutes of work to earn a spot in the finals.
Bemidji continued to pressure and had a few more chances, but Rolfes rung the bell and sealed it for Wisconsin, giving the Badgers a 3–1 lead that held until 30 seconds left in the game. This time, Wellhausen stole the puck on a breakaway and faced an empty net.
Yep, I’ll take Wellhausen to win this one too, and she earned the hat trick to boost Wisconsin to the WCHA finals.
Wisconsin pulled off the tight win in spite of major first-period difficulties winning faceoffs, which seems to be a sporadic problem this club faces through the years. The Badgers won a disappointing 20 percent of their first-period faceoffs, but won 67 percent after that point.
Did anything tactical change for Wisconsin after the first period?
“No, I just think having played 20 minutes, you get back into game readiness,” head coach Mark Johnson said.
If so, it’s a good sign for Wisconsin heading into the WCHA title game on Sunday. Second and third-period Wisconsin is the team that could win a title. The first-period team? Not so much.
For Bemidji, its season was a major success after beginning 2–7–1 and then making it to the conference semifinals.
“To me, it was one of our more enjoyable years. Again nothing to do with the record, it was all about the 25 young women in the program, and that’s what it’s all about,” head coach Jim Scanlan said. “It was just a lot of fun Every single day coming to the rink with this group was enjoyable.
“We certainly had some chances that looked like if it hit the stick right, who knows, maybe it would go by her. That’s hockey. Like I said, I liked the way our team played.”
Wisconsin will play the winner of Minnesota and Ohio State for the WCHA title on Sunday at 2 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin.