Grading the difficulty involved in winning championships at various points of the season can get tricky.
A regular-season title generally rewards success over a long period of time. A playoff crown recognizes the best team in the moment.
The University of Wisconsin women's hockey team has the first thanks to a frantic finish Saturday and it'll start working on the rest soon.
Brette Pettet scored in the final two minutes with an extra attacker to force overtime, and Daryl Watts scored her second goal of the game in the 3-on-3 session for a 4-3 victory against host Minnesota Duluth.
The top-ranked Badgers needed two points from the final game of the season to claim their fifth WCHA regular-season championship in the last six seasons and ninth overall, and that's what they got.
"I never met a title that I didn't like," Badgers coach Mark Johnson said earlier this week. "And so whether it was easy or whether it was hard, you always smile if you're hoisting the trophy at the end."
It most certainly was not easy against the seventh-ranked Bulldogs, nor was it easy all season for UW.
Pettet, the Badgers' co-captain, scored with 1:27 remaining and goaltender Kennedy Blair pulled for an extra attacker to make it 3-3.
In overtime, Watts carried the puck up the left wing on a 2-on-1 rush and fired past Bulldogs goaltender Emma Söderberg's short side to clinch the title.
The championship this season incorporated being able to navigate uncertainty while a pandemic lingered over the proceedings. UW had six games canceled in December because of positive COVID-19 tests.
The Badgers have played the majority of their games against top-10 opponents. Friday and Saturday were no different against the Bulldogs, and the rights to the Julianne Bye Cup came down to the final day for the third straight season.
In 2019, the Badgers needed a regulation victory to claim a share but lost in a shootout to Ohio State. Last season, UW clinched the solo title with a tie at Minnesota Duluth, then won the 3-on-3 overtime to extend the margin over the Gophers.
Watts had the 3-on-3 winner in last season's finale as well. The Badgers needed two extra-attacker goals to force overtime in that contest.
The Badgers (13-3-1) got the top seed for the WCHA Final Faceoff and will face host Minnesota in next Saturday's semifinals. Minnesota Duluth (11-6) finished second and will play Ohio State.
An end-to-end turnaround provided Minnesota Duluth a first-period lead. Söderberg (45 saves) stopped Makenna Webster on a breakaway. Gabbie Hughes then picked off a pass by UW defenseman Nicole LaMantia at the blue line and scored.
Watts went end to end to get the Badgers even with her 14th goal of the season in the second period but the Bulldogs responded with a pair of tallies.
Hughes scored her fourth goal of the series on a dribbler that got past Blair and Anna Klein notched her second.
Lacey Eden's sixth goal in 10 games since joining the Badgers in January made it a 3-2 game going into the third period.
"Just excitement and joy, that was such a fun game. Coming back and scoring a goal with one minute left to tie it, that was so much fun," Watt said. "To kind of complete the comeback in OT to win a trophy, there's really nothing better."
Read stories from University of Wisconsin women's hockey games in the 2020-21 season.
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