MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin advances to the Frozen Four for the second-consecutive year after a shorthanded goal from senior Hilary Knight broke a third period tie with Mercyhurst. The No. 1 Badgers defeated the No. 8 Lakers, 3-1, in the NCAA quarterfinal match at the Kohl Center on Saturday night in front of 2,946 fans.
Returning to Amsoil Arena in Duluth, Minn., for the Women’s Frozen Four, the Badgers will play against No.4-seed Boston College in the semifinals on Friday, March, 16, at 5 p.m.
Mercyhurst’s 28.3 percent on the power play coming into Saturday night’s game was the highest in the nation. However, Wisconsin came in with the nation’s best penalty-kill unit and it was the Badgers that gained the upper hand.
With the game tied, 1-1, heading into the third period, Carolyne Prévost and Hilary Knight entered the Mercyhurst zone on a two-on-one during a Lakers power play. Prévost faked a shot and dished the puck over to Knight who scored the first shorthanded goal against Mercyhurst all season. The goal also stood as the game-winner, giving Knight nine GW’s on the season, which also leads the nation.
“Well originally I was going to do a slap shot from far away, but then I saw Hilary (Knight) busting down the far side,” Prevost said of the goal. “She was calling for the puck and I knew she has a better chance of scoring when she is around the net then I am, so I figured I would move the puck over to her. She scored a nice goal.”
Alex Rigsby earned her 32nd win of the season giving up only one goal to the Lakers. Rigsby’s 28 saves in the game pushed her season total to 1,001. Mercyhurst’s Hillary Pattenden fell to 20-8-3 in the Laker’s final game of the season. Pattenden ended the night with 38 saves, giving up two Badger goals.
Both teams came out of the gates with high intensity with neither team able to hold control of the puck. Despite the back-and-forth play, the Badgers dominated on defense not allowing the Lakers to record a single shot on goal in the first half of the opening period.
“It was tough not seeing some shots for a while,” Rigsby said. “I think the hardest ones were in the first period when I don’t think I saw a shot for the first fifteen minutes because our team had so much energy to keep it in their zone. Its always tougher in that situation, but I mean you just have to stay focused during the entire game.”
Wisconsin capitalized on Mercyhurst turnovers early, as Brianna Decker snagged the puck away in her own zone and fired the puck to Prevost sitting on the opposite side of the net. Prévost beat Pattenden and put the puck in on the backdoor side to net the opening goal of the game.
The second period saw an increase in aggressiveness from the two teams as play continued at a back-and-forth pace. Mercyhurst was able to work the puck offensively more in the period, ending the period with an even 10 shots a side.
Wisconsin looked in control after breaking up a late Lakers’ power play, but with forty seconds remaining in the period, Mercyhurst’s Kelley Steadman pushed ahead of the pack following a faceoff and fired a shot past Rigsby to even the score at one apiece.
“We had to bring the energy as we did the first period,” Knight said of going into the third period. “Unfortunately we had a tough bounce in the last minute of the second period. But I don’t think there was doubt in anyone’s minds and that we were going to come out in the next period and compete. That was our biggest component to our third-period play. The energy was high; we were ready to go out. People were cheering and yelling, it was a good feeling.”
Knight’s shorthanded goal at the 11:18 mark was her 29th career game-winning goal, the most in program history.
Wisconsin held the momentum after Knight’s goal, but Mercyhurst continued to fight. The Lakers pulled Pattenden with three minutes left in the game opting for an extra attacker. However, the Badgers were the first to find the back of the net as Decker put the puck in the empty goal for the 3-1 win.
“In the first five or six minutes, it was like a game of chess,” head coach Mark Johnson commented about the game. “Nobody wanted to make any big mistakes. I don’t think there was a shot on net for the first four or five minutes, obviously the kids are nervous. There was a nice size crowd and magnitude and the pressure of the game. I think we did a lot of good things. I think as coaches we look for perfection, so to answer your question I’m not sure if we played an entire 60-minute game. But we did what we needed to do to win the game, so that’s what you’re looking for right now.
The Badgers and Boston College collide for the second year in a row at the Frozen Four, as Wisconsin downed the Eagles 3-2 last year in Erie, Pa., en route to winning the 2011 National Championship.
The 2012 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four kicks off with Wisconsin and Boston College playing at 5 p.m. Minnesota and Cornell will play in the other semifinal at 8 p.m. the same day. The championship game will be held on Sunday, March 18 at 3 p.m. All games will be played at Amsoil Arena in Duluth, Minn.