After four previous trips to the WCCHA Tournament final ended in defeat, the Wisconsin Badgers set aside the past and earned their first WCCHA title with a hard fought victory over the suprising Minnesota State Mavericks.
The Badgers’ path to the Carla Berg Cup was not easy, but consistency and work ethic drove their eventual win. After a tight 3-2 opening round win against Southeast Division rivals St. Thomas, Wisconsin earned a come-from-behind win over St. Cloud State 2-1 – a win that gave UW their fifth opportunity to take home their first title.
Prior to the tournament, few would have expected to see #7 Minnesota State playing for the championship, but two impressive results underlined the ability of the team. In the quarterfinal round, the Mavericks’ relentlessness saw them overpower #3 Regionally-ranked (and #2 seed) Gustavus Adolphus by a scoreline of 4-1. Just as impressive, MSU-Mankato took out #3 seed UW-Eau Claire with a similar effort of 4-2. On paper at least, what awaited the Mavericks was their easiest game of the tournament.
However, the games are played for a reason. After Minnesota State opened the scoring in the first, Wisconsin stormed back to gain the lead at 2-1, eventually extending to 3-1 on a particularly impressive penalty shot goal. With time winding down, the Mavericks pulled within one, but a late penalty stunted the comeback attempt and the Badgers held firm. As the final buzzer sounded, cheers erupted from the home side as the Badgers had finally earned their very first WCCHA Championship.
With the win, Wisconsin also claimed the WCCHA autobid – although in all likelihood the Badgers will finish well within the Regional automatic qualification spots. The heartbreaking loss for the Mavs ends their impressive season, but the strong finish should serve the team well as they look to 2022-2023.
In the tournament’s other games, #1 Minnesota earned the consolation title – and finished the event unbeaten – with a strong 3-0 win over debutants Minnesota-Crookston. After missing out on advancing in the Quarterfinal round in a somewhat shocking Shootout loss to #8 St. Cloud State, the Gophers rebounded with two wins to close out the weekend. The Golden Eagles finished at 1-2, with a tight opening round loss to to UW-Eau Claire followed by a redeeming first tournament victory against Gustavus Adolphus.
In the third place game, #3 UW-Eau Claire got the result they needed following their semifinal loss, punishing #8 St. Cloud State by a score of 7-1. The Blugolds finished out the tournament at 2-1, hoping the results are enough to solidify and possibly even improve their position in the Rankings to claim a spot at Regionals. For the Huskies, a thrilling opening round upset of #1 Minnesota was followed by an all-out effort that just fell short in the semis to eventual champion Wisconsin.
Despite some strong efforts, #3 Gustavus Adolphus and #5 St. Thomas dropped both of their games to depart the tournament on Saturday. Comfortably ranked at #3 in the Central Region, the Golden Gusties can take sollace in the fact that they will surely be playing again in two weeks time at Regionals – potentially with a first round bye. The Tommies, on the other hand, have a nervous wait for Final Rankings, but are still positioned to eek into the top 14 and make it a record 5 league teams at the Central Regional Tournament.
A huge congratulations and thank you to all teams for a fantastic season!