HAMDEN, Conn. — The specifics might be lost to time as they age. The feeling will live with members of the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team forever.
For the first time in eight years, the Badgers are national champions, giving them a fifth NCAA trophy to finish the program’s 20th season.
And not long after a 2-0 victory over archrival Minnesota was over on Sunday at People’s United Center, Annie Pankowski fittingly carried the hardware with her and put it in front of her at the news conference.
Two years earlier, there was no trophy within arm’s reach and no satisfaction as Pankowski talked about how humbling hockey can be in the aftermath of a championship game defeat.
A year ago, she was cut from the U.S. Olympic team for the second time and watched from the seats as the Badgers fell short in an NCAA Frozen Four again.
Not this time. She and fellow senior co-captain Sophia Shaver scored goals, and most outstanding player Kristen Campbell made 27 saves to complete a trifecta of NCAA tournament shutouts.
“It’s been a crazy journey, but it’s worth it,” Pankowski said. “We put our heart and soul into this team. There was just a feeling ... that we just had it. Whatever ‘it’ is, this team had it.
“We weren’t afraid to lose. We were going right at them. And to leave this amazing program with another national championship is something that I will cherish forever.”
Badgers coach Mark Johnson said Saturday that someone would leave the championship game knowing she had made a special play that will leave a lifelong memory.
It belonged to Pankowski, who scored a second-period, short-handed goal to build on the lead that Shaver provided in the first period.
Pankowski beat Minnesota’s Kelly Pannek around the left side on a rush up the ice and found a few inches of room high on the short side to squeeze the puck past Minnesota goaltender Alex Gulstene.
The Badgers senior made the postseason her time, scoring in all seven games and totaling 11 goals and 13 points.
“(Annie) has been through a lot, always kept her head up high,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t be happier that she’s going out as a national champion.”
Pankowski, whose goal broke the team record for career short-handed scores (nine), took no credit for putting the team on her back, saying she thought she was doing the opposite.
“I just settled in and said, ‘OK, all I have to do is my best, and that’s all,’” Pankowski said.
The Badgers became the first team in 19 NCAA tournaments to win all of their games by shutout. UW blanked Syracuse 4-0 in the quarterfinals and Clarkson 5-0 in the semifinals on Friday.
Johnson has been behind the bench for all five of the Badgers’ titles, in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011 and now 2019. In a season where he became the winningest coach in Division I women’s hockey history and had his Badgers men’s hockey jersey retired, this one came with an initial feeling of relief.
“You keep going to the well and hope you get an opportunity to play for another championship,” he said. “I woke up about 3 this morning and I just felt comfortable that the team was in a good place.”
The game’s first goal was going to be critical, Johnson said — in five previous games between the teams, the team that went ahead ended up winning.
That was a good sign for the Badgers (35-4-2) once Shaver put them ahead of the Golden Gophers (32-6-1) in the first period, finishing off the great work of fellow Minnesota native Presley Norby.
Winding behind the net, Norby delivered a perfect pass to Shaver between the left circle and the crease. Shaver snuck the puck between Gulstene (30 saves) and the near post.
“That was a super nice finish by her,” Norby said. “It wouldn’t have been a big play if she didn’t finish it off.”
It was Shaver’s seventh goal of the season but her first in 16 games since Jan. 25.
“Pretty good time for it,” Shaver said. “I’m just happy it went in. It felt like a while, but I knew I was getting shots so hopefully one was going to go in eventually.”
That was enough for Campbell, who was helped by teammates clearing loose pucks out of the area in front of the net before Golden Gophers players could get to them.
In the third period, Norby frantically backchecked to disrupt what would have been a great scoring chance by Minnesota’s Grace Zumwinkle in the slot.
“We were just inches, half-seconds away from things,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Good stick position by them, good back pressure. Fumbling with the puck, getting caught on a 2-on-1, hitting the post.”
UW players that have touted their chemistry all season put the finishing touches on the element that will bind them for the rest of their lives.
The Badgers won their last seven games and went undefeated in their last 14. The last one elevated them to elite status in a program that has waited a while to return to the top.
“I’m still waiting for it to click and to set in that we get to take this thing home with us,” Pankowski said, eyeing the trophy in front of her. “But I can’t wait to see the fans in Madison and bring that home.”
Minnesota 0 0 0 — 0
Wisconsin 1 1 0 — 2
First period: W — Shaver 7 (Norby, LaMantia), 10:20.
Second period: W — Pankowski 28 (Roque), 9:15 (sh). Penalties: Rolfes, W, 2:54; Curl, W, 7:23.
Third period penalty: Heise, M, 3:24.
Saves: M (Gulstene 8-12-10) 30; W (Campbell 8-9-10) 27. Power plays: M 0-for-2; W 0-for-1. Att. — 3,423.