HAMDEN, Conn. – Following an eight-year wait, the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey program is back atop the NCAA. The Badgers held off their rivals from the University of Minnesota for a 2-0 victory to claim a fifth NCAA title on Sunday.
That tied Wisconsin with the University of Minnesota Duluth for second on the all-time list, while the Golden Gophers lead the way with six NCAA titles.
“It’s been a crazy journey, but it’s worth it,” said senior forward Annie Pankowski, who scored the second goal for the top-ranked Badgers. “We put our heart and soul into this team. To leave this amazing program with another national championship; I will cherish it forever.”
Fellow senior Sophia Shaver scored the eventual game-winner off an assist from Presley Norby midway through the first period. Pankowski sealed it with a shorthanded goal off the backhand in the second.
However, it was Badgers goalie Kristen Campbell who shined brightest in recording her 11th shutout of the season. Campbell became the first goaltender to complete the NCAA postseason without allowing a goal.
“I thank the team in front of me,” Campbell said. “I think that we were willing to do whatever it takes, get the puck out whenever we needed to. It’s a complete team effort.
“It's just been an unbelievable time at Wisconsin, and it's honestly been a dream come true every minute I've spent there.”
Winning a national title in Wisconsin red wasn’t a scenario Campbell would have considered just a few years ago. She began her collegiate career in 2015-16 at the University of North Dakota, and saw limited action as a redshirt freshman the following season.
“When I went to North Dakota, my goal was to win a national championship,” she said. “I couldn't thank the coaching staff here enough for taking a risk on me, taking a chance to bring me into this program; and as soon as I got that opportunity, I knew I was going to make the most of it.”
Campbell, who stopped 27 shots against Minnesota, spoke about “being in the moment.”
“I think we've all been visualizing this moment,” she said. “I think right now it's pretty surreal, but it feels like we've been here before. For me, just the amount of times I've seen this in my head.”
The win also capped off a phenomenal career for Pankowski, who scored 11 goals in the Badgers’ seven postseason games. She was also one of three finalists for the 2019 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, which was presented on Saturday.
“She’s has been through a lot, always kept her head up high,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said. “I couldn’t be happier that she’s going out as a national champion.”
The Badgers wound down the regular season in less than desired fashion, closing out the schedule with a pair of ties against Ohio State. After that, the team regrouped going into the postseason.
”We got together after the regular season ended and talked about some points we wanted to hit on about trusting each other and knowing our roles,” blueliner Maddie Rolfes said. “And from then on out, we didn’t look back. We came into the playoffs with the best team chemistry and the best confidence.”
Indeed, the Badgers swept through the WCHA playoffs, beating the Gophers in the title game, and then shut out Syracuse and Clarkson en route to the NCAA title game against Minnesota.
“We love each other and trust each other,” said Pankowski. “After our little rut in the regular season. It’s been going up from there.”
“I’m certainly proud of the team the way they played, not only today but during the last three weeks; we upped our game and really made a commitment,” he said. “A lot of credit goes to the players who dialed it in and focusing and doing what we needed to do to give ourselves a chance to win.
“It’s hard to do. It’s hard to win championships. Everybody’s got to be willing to sacrifice their own individual egos for what’s best for the team. Everybody has to buy in.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Photo credit: Tom Lynn