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The Takeaway: Wisconsin finishes on top

The waiting is over for the Badgers

Wisconsin Athletics

On Sunday afternoon, Wisconsin took home its fifth national title after a 2-0 win over Minnesota in the championship game. Both teams advanced to the final after shutout wins at the Frozen Four; Minnesota won 2-0 over Cornell, and Wisconsin won 5-0 over Clarkson. Catch up on the NCAA Tournament in the season’s final edition of The Takeaway.

5 Things to Know

Annie Pankowski’s monster postseason performance: Pankowski has had a senior season to remember for Wisconsin; she was a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, and is also one of five finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award. She turned up the heat in the playoffs, scoring 11 goals in seven games to lead the way for the Badgers. In the NCAA Tournament alone, she scored five of Wisconsin’s 11 goals. It was a great way for her to go out, especially considering the heartbreak she’s endured along the way. She’d been a part of multiple Frozen Four teams with Wisconsin but never won, and was cut from the U.S. Olympic Team—two times. You could just see in her play all weekend how motivated she was to bring that elusive title home for Wisconsin.

Kristen Campbell’s historic shutout streak: Campbell, named the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player, became the first goaltender in history to pitch a shutout for the duration of the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers played an excellent game all weekend defensively, but Campbell was there to stop every shot she faced and shut down two high-powered offenses. In my opinion, she set the tone early on in the Clarkson game with key stops on Loren Gabel and Elizabeth Giguère—one a wrister from Gabel on a 2-on-1, and the second a backhand shot from Giguère from right in front—and did not waver after that for the rest of the Frozen Four.

Loren Gabel wins the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award: Gabel was named the 22nd recipient of the prestigious award, out of a truly great group of finalists. Along with Gabel and Pankowksi, BC defender Megan Keller finished as a top-three nominee. Gabel was the nation’s best goal-scorer this year, finishing with 40 goals, 29 assists, and 69 points. She also led the country in shots on goal, with a blistering 277. That comes out to an unbelievable 7.29 shots per game.

Strength of the defenses, and the competition: We were treated to three good defensive battles this weekend (though the final score of Wisconsin-Clarkson on Friday doesn’t quite show it). The penalty kills were also outstanding all weekend long; Cornell conceded the only power play goal in the first game, but besides that, the PKs were flawless. I thought those performances were worth a special shutout, because Wisconsin defender Maddie Rolfes gave some great insight after the championship game about what that aspect of the game means to her and her fellow blue-liners:

“Penalty killing is more fun than scoring goals for us. So when we see that we’re about to kill, we get fired up, we get momentum going, we get excited, and we’re ready to just do whatever it takes. And we don’t care if our legs are burning, we don’t care if we’re going to block a shot in our stomach or leg or whatever it is. It’s so much fun. And I know that the other team should have momentum, but I honestly think that sometimes we get a lot of momentum on our kill because we have so much fun, and we have such a great goaltender behind us.”

I think part of the reason we saw such competitive, low-scoring games throughout the tournament is because this year’s field was really, really good and really, really close in comparison to each other. Minnesota was the clear number two team to me for most of the season, and both Princeton and Cornell played the Gophers to within a goal (without counting empty-netters). This isn’t the first year this has happened, but it’s starting to become a real trend, and it’s great to see that level of competitiveness in almost every game.

Some perspective from the losing teams: I feel like I say this every year, but I’m always so impressed with the character and grace we see from the teams who are bounced. As is the norm, coaches and players from Clarkson, Cornell, and Minnesota showed tremendous grace, patience, and thoughtfulness after their games. Just one quick example: Minnesota’s Kelly Pannek was asked about Campbell’s performance in net, and was told that Campbell hadn’t allowed a goal all tournament. Before saying anything else, Pannek said, “I didn’t know that, so congratulations to her for that.”

This juxtaposition at the very end of the season, between players who are absolutely elated and players who are absolutely devastated, somehow never fails to resonate. One group of players wears backwards hats, championship t-shirts, and ear-to-ear grins. The other bears heavy hearts and tear-stained faces. The scenes are so different, but the line between them is so thin. I’ve often wondered which group better captures what hockey is all about: the winners, whose hard work and dedication just culminated in the greatest prize, or the fallen, who will not walk away with a trophy but have no shortage of love and pride for their team. I think it’s probably both.

Top Performers

Annie Pankowski, Senior, Forward, Wisconsin: I already mentioned Pankowski’s stellar run through the playoffs, but we need to talk about this ridiculous 1-on-2 goal against Clarkson in the semifinals:

And this effortless, shorthanded backhander against Minnesota in the championship game:

Sarah Potomak, Junior, Forward, Minnesota: Potomak turned in a two-goal, two-assist performance to help Minnesota advance past Princeton in the quarterfinals, then added an empty-net goal on Friday against Cornell.

Sarah Fillier, Freshman, Forward, Princeton: Fillier scored both goals for the Tigers in a tight opening-round loss against Minnesota, a really strong performance in her first NCAA Tournament game.

Gillis Frechette, Freshman, Forward, Cornell: Frechette sent the Big Red to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2013, scoring the overtime goal against Northeastern in the quarterfinals.