The 2,926 day wait is over.
Wisconsin had the best skater and best goalie. In order to win, it needed them to play their best to win a fifth national title.
The Badgers played its best and then some in a 2-0 victory over rival Minnesota in the NCAA championship game inside the People’s United Center in Hamden, Conn., on Sunday afternoon.
Back in 2011, it was taken for granted that Wisconsin would perpetually win hockey titles. However, after several years of near misses, one truth has been made clear to fans and the program alike:
Every national title is special, even for premiere programs like UW.
The star for Wisconsin (35-4-2) was goalie Kristen Campbell, who stopped all 27 shots Minnesota attempted on Sunday, and for that matter, all 56 shots she faced in the NCAA tournament.
Goals by seniors Sophia Shaver and Annie Pankowski lit up the lamp also allowed the Badgers to own another important chapter of the Border Battle. Additionally, Pankowski scored an amazing five goals in the tournament.
In the year head coach Mark Johnson saw his jersey retired for men’s hockey, it is only fitting that this is the season that he returns to the top of the hockey world.
As opposed to the start of the WCHA championship game, Wisconsin and Minnesota were out to draw blood quickly. In each of the previous five match-ups, the first team to score went on to win, so both teams came out flying.
Minnesota (32-6-1) got several opportunities in the first period, especially by screening Campbell’s vision. While the goalie gave up some rebounds, the defense was able to clear the puck before Minnesota could crash the crease to quickly convert.
For Wisconsin, this period was perhaps its best passing of the season to date. The Badgers mitigated bad turnovers, got the puck up the ice quickly, and created a lot of opportunities out of seemingly nothing.
One of those opportunities converted, as junior forward Presley Norby went behind the goal nonchalantly. Instead of continuing the rotation, she caught the Gophers napping, flipping the puck to Shaver who buried it to give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead.
After the goal, Minnesota went on an offensive flurry and dominated shots on goal. Campbell held strong, however, and shut out the feisty Gophers.
Gophers had two power plays, each with a lot of great looks. Campbell continued with stellar save after stellar save.
During the second penalty kill, Campbell had a particularly amazing save, and the rebound was sent down to Pankowski. The redshirt senior and Patty Kazmaier Award finalist took the puck into Gopher territory to effectively kill off the power play.
However, Pankowski must have noticed that even though she was alone against five Minnesota skaters, they were a bit flat-footed. She accelerated quickly to the corner, found an open seem, and beat Gulstene with an amazing backhanded goal to give Wisconsin a 2-0 lead.
Not only was this Pankowski’s fifth goal in this NCAA tournament, it was her ninth career shorthanded goal, giving her the school record.
The Badgers mounted even more pressure after the Pankowski goal, but Gulstene did everything she needed to do to keep the Wisconsin lead at 2-0.
The third period was busy. With the season on the line, both teams were flying up and down the ice. Wisconsin’s defense held strong, and Campbell did as well.
As time dwindled down, the Badgers bench felt the excitement crescendo and could be heard over the crowd mic. The players screamed “Block it!” every time they Minnesota had the puck and screaming every clear.
With around 2:15 left in the period, Minnesota pulled its goalie. However, the extra skater wasn’t enough to get past Wisconsin’s defense and goalie Campbell.
After the game, Wisconsin poured onto the ice and Pankowski hoisted the trophy as the program was officially crowned.
Wisconsin left absolutely nothing to be desired from this season except, maybe, the desire to have one more chance to watch this special and inspiring team play.