Buckeyes late rally nets their first WCHA regular-season crown and top seed in the league playoffs
Top-seeded Ohio State will host Bemidji State, Minnesota will host St. Thomas, Wisconsin will host Minnesota State Mankato and Minnesota Duluth will host St. Cloud State in the WCHA first round.
MINNEAPOLIS – Knowing the historical intensity of the Border Battle rivalry between Minnesota and Wisconsin, it is exceedingly rare to have Gophers cheering for Badgers. And after Sunday’s dramatic finale to the WCHA regular season, it is unlikely to happen again anytime soon.
A Badgers home win on Sunday versus Ohio State would have handed Minnesota the conference crown. And for a time it looked like Wisconsin would be good neighbors. But the Buckeyes, trailing 1-0 with less than five minutes to play, exploded for a trio of late goals – two of them from defender Madison Bizal – to win 3-1 and lift Ohio State to its first WCHA title.
“I’ve got to give Wisconsin credit for today’s game. I thought they were the stronger team for 55 minutes, really, and then we ended up scoring three quick goals,” said Buckeyes coach Nadine Muzerall. “Tonight just shows our will and our drive to win. You can never think it’s over until the final buzzer with the Buckeyes.”
Crown 'em - @OhioStateWHKY are @WCHA_WHockey champions! 🏆 pic.twitter.com/s7EKu3HiQw— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 19, 2023
As the conference’s top seed and holders of the Julianne Bye Cup, the Buckeyes (28-4-2 overall, 23-4-1 WCHA) will host Bemidji State in the best-of-three series next weekend at OSU Ice Rink. The Beavers finished in the conference cellar with a 5-28-1 overall mark and a 2-26-0 WCHA resume.
Other first round series have seventh-seed St. Thomas (8-25-1, 3-24-1) heading across town to face second-seed Minnesota (25-5-3, 22-3-3). The Gophers are coming off a road sweep of the Tommies.
Wisconsin, which finished third in the WCHA with 23-9-2 and 19-7-2 records, will host Minnesota State Mankato. The Mavericks were 15-18-1 overall and 9-18-1 in the conference.
The final home ice slot went to Minnesota Duluth (23-8-3, 17-8-3) which will entertain fifth-place St. Cloud State at Amsoil Arena. The Huskies, under first-year head coach Brian Idalski, went 18-16-1 overall and 11-16-1 in the conference.
Winners of the opening round series will advance to the 2023 Kwik Trip WCHA Final Faceoff, which will be played at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis on Friday and Saturday, March 3-4.
Ohio State won the conference tournament last season, beating Minnesota in overtime, and then scored late in the NCAA title game to beat Minnesota Duluth and claim the Buckeyes first women’s hockey national championship.
Muzerall, in her seventh season running the Buckeyes program, now has two WCHA playoff titles, one WCHA regular season title and the NCAA title to her credit.
“I just want to thank my staff. You’re married to them. I see them more than my family, and I’m proud of what they do to get us to this point,” Muzerall said. “The players buying in and doing all the tough stuff, and to my family which has been by my side the entire time and seen the highs and lows through this seven-season journey. It feels so great, and who says hockey can’t be romantic?”