The Wisconsin Badgers won their record-setting seventh national championship on Sunday, March 19, 2023, with a 1-0 win over the 2022 champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes were the top-seeded team in the tournament, winning 33 games this season while the Badgers were unranked, winning 29 total games this season. The lone goal came from freshman phenom, Kirsten Simms after a back-handed pass from fellow first-year Claire Enright. Simms sent the puck to the top corner past Ohio State goaltender Amanda Thiele with only 6:32 left in the first period. The goal marked Simms’s 16th goal of the season and second game-winner against Ohio State this season; Simms scored the game-winner in Wisconsin’s one regular season win over the Buckeyes. The second period was littered with chances on both sides but nonetheless, it was scoreless. Wisconsin was 26-1-1 when leading going into the third period this season and they proved why in the third period of the national championship. They never let up and even forced a faceoff in Ohio State’s zone with less than three seconds remaining.
Wisconsin now holds the record for most national championships with seven, breaking their tie with Minnesota. This was the Badgers’ third championship in the last four played tournaments and five years due to the 2020 tournament being canceled. As the first unranked team to win the national championship, Wisconsin had to beat No. 3, 2, and 1 in order to take the title showing the same resilience Badger fans saw all season long.
1. The WCHA has proved itself as the top conference in the nation
With the second straight all-WCHA championship and three of the four Frozen Four teams being from the WCHA, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association has proven to be the most competitive conference in the country for women’s hockey. In a sport where most schools don’t have a program, the WCHA consists of commonly Big Ten teams including heavy hitters Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota but adds the likes of Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State, and St. Thomas. In the NCAA’s tournament field of 11, there are five automatic qualifiers with six at-large bids. The WCHA alone took half of the at-large bids, sending Minnesota via the automatic qualification and Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota Duluth as at-large bids. Despite the tournament field growing and new teams making their first tournaments, the WCHA has proven that it will always be in the running for a national championship. In fact, the conference as a whole has won 19 NCAA national championships: seven by Wisconsin, six by Minnesota, five by Minnesota Duluth, and one by Ohio State.
2. Repeating isn’t always easy
Ohio State won its first national championship last season but this year, despite being the top-ranked team nearly all season, they fell short. After handily beating Northeastern in the Frozen Four, Ohio State faced a familiar foe, Wisconsin whom they beat three of the four times the two teams met in the regular season with the Badgers’ one win coming in overtime. Ohio State looked shaky and wasn’t able to get into a rhythm at all during the national championship due to the high pressure from Wisconsin. Prior to Ohio State winning its first title, Minnesota won back-to-back titles in 2015-2016 but it was their fifth and sixth national championships. Clarkson won their second and third national championship in 2017-2018. Wisconsin won back-to-back titles in 2019-2021 due to the 2020 NCAA tournament being canceled due to Covid, but those were the Badgers’ fifth and sixth titles. The similarity here is that these three teams knew how to handle the pressure of being expected to win. That is something that Ohio State has not experienced until this season and when it mattered most, they weren’t able to break through.
3. Never count out proven teams no matter the season they had
Wisconsin became the first unranked team to win the national championship with their 1-0 win over #1 Ohio State. But at one point this season, there were people who weren’t sure if the Badgers would make it back to the tournament, let alone the Frozen Four. During the first two weeks of January, the Badgers went through a five-game losing streak, including a 5-0 loss to Ohio State. After that losing streak, the Badgers began to turn their season around with series wins over Minnesota State and St. Thomas. They dropped a game against St. Cloud State before sweeping Minnesota at home with a shootout win and a 7-5 win the next day. The Badgers took on Ohio State for their final series of the regular season, winning 6-5 in overtime on a penalty shot from Kirsten Simms but losing 3-1 the following afternoon. The Badgers lost in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Face-Off to rival Minnesota but because of their season turnaround, they made it into the tournament, unranked but they were in. Set to play in the Colgate region, the Badgers had to get past tournament debutantes, Long Island University before facing no. 3 Colgate to make it to the Frozen Four. With a 4-2 win over Colgate after a 9-1 win over LIU, the Badgers were set for their 14th Frozen Four appearance. Facing Minnesota again, the Badgers showed some nerves in the first five minutes, giving up a goal to Taylor Heise but after that, they were locked in. They scored two goals in 53 seconds in the third period, giving them a 2-1 lead with 12 minutes remaining. Minnesota scored an extra attacker goal in the final minutes to tie the game, sending us to overtime. With 3:13 left in overtime, Caroline “KK” Harvey got the puck on a pass from Jesse Compher and fired it home, sending the Badgers to the national championship, yet again. The Badgers had many doubters during this season, losing 10 games this season. For context, they lost 15 games in total across the six other seasons where the team won the title. That breaks down into approximately 2-3 games per season. They lost two-thirds of that just this season. This team rose above all adversity to come out on top and they were extremely successful.
4. The goaltending across the country is at its peak
Cami Kronish was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, saving 82 of the 87 shots she faced. In a national championship game with two of the top three teams in scoring this season, a 1-0 scoreline was unexpected. Of those 87 saves, 31 were during the national championship against Ohio State in which the Badgers forced the Buckeyes’ first shutout since January 21, 2022, due to Kronish standing on her head throughout the championship game. This is Kronish’s first year where she had the chance to play after being behind Kristen Campbell and Kennedy Blair in the prior years. And it wasn’t only Kronish that showed up for her team; goaltending across the nation is at its all-time height. Gwyneth Philips of Northeastern took the helm after Aerlin Franklel’s departure and put up an outstanding 0.960 save percentage and 0.87 goals against average. Emma Soderberg of Minnesota Duluth continued her spectacular collegiate career, with a save percentage of 0.938 this season and a goals-against average of 1.39. For Soderberg, she saved UMD on many occasions this season, keeping games against top opposition close despite her offense not being as productive. We’ve seen goaltenders save their teams in more ways than one across the tournament and the position is only going to get more competitive with the growth of the sport.
The All-Tournament team consisted of Compher (WI), Simms (WI), Laila Edwards (WI), Harvey (WI), Sophie Jaques (OSU), and Kronish (WI). Kronish was the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament after making 82 saves across four games.
The Frozen Four was incredibly exciting and the unexpectedness of the Badgers taking it home added to it. Over the next few months, players will say goodbye to their collegiate careers, announce transfers, or decide if they are taking another year. But for now, it’s time for the Badgers to celebrate their seventh heaven before we start it all again in September.