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WCHA title slips away from No. 1 Wisconsin women’s hockey

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Badgers come up short in season finale against OSU

Wisconsin Badgers XXXX during an NCAA college women's hockey game against the Ohio State Buckeyes Friday, October 7, 2016, in Madison, Wis. The Badgers won 3-0. (Photo by David Stluka)
Wisconsin Badgers during an NCAA college women’s hockey game against the Ohio State Buckeyes Friday, October 7, 2016, in Madison, Wis. The Badgers won 3-0. (Photo by David Stluka)
David Stluka

The top-ranked Wisconsin women’s hockey entered the final weekend of the regular season with a two-point lead over rival Minnesota. With each game worth three points, a win and a tie (or a pair of shootout victories) against No. 10 Ohio State would have been enough to guarantee the Badgers’ fourth straight WCHA title.

The Badgers showered OSU goalie Andrea Braendli with 95 shots in the series, but Braendli stopped 92 of them for an amazing 96.7 percent save percentage en route to a pair of draws. Unfortunately, Wisconsin lost both shootouts, earning the Badgers only two points towards conference standings.

To make things worse, on the other side of the Mississippi River, No. 2 Minnesota swept Bemidji State to give the Gophers sole possession of the WCHA regular season title.

In game one, the Badger’s Abby Roque opened up the scoring halfway through the first period, but that was it for the Badgers, as it went the rest of regulation and overtime without adding another tally. With seven minutes left in regulation, Madison native Tatum Skaggs tied the game up for the Buckeyes.

In a critical shootout, the Buckeyes won the extra point 1-0 thanks to an Emma Maltais shootout goal. Braendli stopped all three Badger shootout attempts by Annie Pankowski, Sophie Shirley, and Roque. Since Minnesota won game one over Bemidji State, the Badgers would head into game two deadlocked with the Gophers at the top of the WCHA.

In game two, Maltais gave the Buckeyes a lead only 23 seconds into the contest, and in the second period, OSU added another goal off the stick of Liz Schepers.

Wisconsin kept firing shots, and it continued to be stymied for most of the game. With five minutes left in regulation, the Badgers faced a 2-0 deficit and seemingly hopeless to defend its three-year WCHA title streak.

However, the Badgers launched a furious attack to keep its conference title hopes alive, as Shirley and Emily Clark brought the game to a tie with a pair of goals and forced overtime.

As overtime began for the Badgers, Minnesota had secured the victory over Bemidji State, meaning Wisconsin needed to win before a shootout to gain all three available points.

Wisconsin’s scoring flurry was done. Even the rare overtime goalie-pull in the last minute of overtime was insufficient to spark the last goal, and UW’s chance at another conference title slipped through its fingers.

Because the Gophers stole the WCHA in the final weekend, the Badgers lost a first-round bye and now must face St. Cloud State in a best-of-three series for the first round of the conference tournament this coming weekend at LaBahn arena.