Monday, March 14, 2011

On to Lake Erie: Women Advance to Frozen Four

The Men’s season might be done, but the Women’s season still has much to cheer about.

On Saturday evening, in front of several thousand Badgers fans, the UW Women advanced to their 5th Frozen Four in the past six seasons with a 2-1 victory over the Duluth Foreign Legion (DFL). Overall, it was one hell of a good hockey game, even though there was no checking!

The first period was pretty even and the Badgers failed to capitalize on a few nice chances. The DFL was able to change the scoreboard first, w/ a goal late in the period. It came after a penalty ended for the Badgers and was one of those cases where they struggled to clear the puck and you just knew something bad was going to happen.

There was a lot of nervous tension in some of my friends heading into the second period. In case you weren’t aware, the DFL was the last team to beat the Badgers this season, way back in November 2010, and after the NCAA Committee decided that earning the #1 overall seed meant nothing, fans knew the DFL would be a tough out. Instead of getting Dartmouth the actual #8 seed, the Badgers were handed their old rival and defending NCAA champions.

The momentum quickly shifted back to the Badgers in the 2nd period, early on their second PP, Hilary Knight launched a shot from the point, which made it through traffic and past DFL goalie Comrade Kim Martin. Credit the players screening the goalie. Mark Johnson also shifted his lines late in the 1st or early in the 2nd, and put all three Patty Kaz finalists together, creating a dominate line of Knight, Meghan Duggan and Briana Decker. Those three created a lot of nice chances the rest of the game and were complimented well by the 2nd and 3rd lines which overall, the DFL worked hard to keep up with.

The Badgers controlled play through the 2nd and into the 3rd period, when 7:34 in Decker to Knight to Duggan for what would eventually be the game winner. The DFL mounted a late attack and pulled their sieve, but it was too little too late. The Badger Women cleaned up the defensive lapses they were having two weeks back in Verona, Alex Rigsby continues to play well in net, and while the score sheet doesn’t show it, forwards like Madison Packer, Mallory Deluce and Carolyne Prevost had great efforts.

One other event to point out, in the third period after a pileup in front of the DFL net, Comrade Jocelyne Larocque grabbed Knight’s facemask and ripped her helmet off. Not only did Comrade Larocque not get ejected, there wasn’t a single penalty called. I haven’t seen such a bogus officiating job since Randy Schmidt didn’t know how to run a video review at Magness arena costing Matt Ford a tying goal as time expired against Denver in 2008. Unacceptable.

Regardless, the Badger Women are headed back to the Frozen Four. There are A LOT of new faces since their last trip in 2009 where they blew out Mercyhurst, but some of the key kogs to that team are still around and I expect nothing less than #4 being brought home next Sunday. I’m bold enough to say that the Badgers might have faced their toughest game in the quarterfinals. The east coast teams might have nice records, but nothing compares to the top end of the WCHA, and UW is the best of the best. BC, BU and Cornell better be ready to get beat down in Lake Erie, because Duggan/Decker/Knight are ready for the big show.

Besides the games, Meghan Duggan should be in line to become the school’s third Patty Kaz, national player of the year, winner! She certainly has the resume. I won’t lie, I’m a little confused how Kelly Stack was a hat trick finalist instead of Hilary Knight. Knight has 9 more goals than the next closest player in NCAA hockey, and 20 more points than Stack. I know I’m biased on this one, but the stats don’t lie. Next season Knight needs to get her community service and charitable work in line, and should be the Badgers 4th Patty Kaz winner, but this year Duggan deserves all the accolades. She is truly the definition of an all around player, and a Badger Great. Duggan, Knight, Decker might not just be a nice line combo, but the next three Patty Kaz winners, if East Coast Bias doesn’t thwart the effort.

I’ll be enjoying the games in some form from my buddy’s condo in Honolulu, Hawaii. To those who are making the trip, enjoy the games and cheer hard for the Women to bring home #4!

Photos from life.com and hockeyjournal.com