Saturday night, Sarah and I saw the UW Badgers play the Mercyhurst Lakers in an NCAA quarterfinal women’s hockey match.
During the regular season, the women’s hockey team plays at the Kohl Centeron the UW campus. The Kohl Center is a big, new-ish multi-sport arena onthe UW campus. In a hockey configuration, it seats over 17,000 people witha huge multimedia scoreboard over center ice. The game we saw, however, was at the Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton, which is just west of Madison. The Capitol Ice Arena seats roughly 800 people intight quarters, on wooden benches hard up against the glass that surroundsthe rink. Instead of a multimedia scoreboard, there was an old-schoolscoreboard composed of black metal and light bulbs over center ice.
For this particular game, over 1,000 people crammed into the building withmany standing around the boards on either end because the bleachers werefilled. The western end of the bleachers was filled with Mercyhurstsupporters who traveled from Erie, PA to see the game. The came preparedwith noisemakers, green face paint (green is one of Mercyhurst’s colors), and loud cheers. What they lacked in numbers they made up for withdecibels.
The UW faithful were numerous but not particularly loud. It was SpringBreak week for the university, and many of the university’s loudest fans,its students, were far out of town. Some went to see the men’s basketballteam play in the NCAA tournament, some went to watch the men’s hockey teamplay in the WCHA Final Five which was held in Minneapolis, other went totropical locations or their home towns.
As the game progressed, it was clear why Mercyhurst was playing in thetournament–the strong play of their goaltender. The Badgers got numeroushigh-quality chances to score, but after the first period, the score was1-1. Mercyhurst got their goal on a breakaway when the UW goaltenderstopped the initial shot, but was not able to stop the rebound the seemed tofloat in slow motion upwards over her shoulder and into the net.
The second and third periods were tense battles. In the second, neitherteam was able to move the puck past the two solid goaltenders. It wasn’tuntil the third period that the Badgers were able to light the lamp. A shotfrom the point was redirected into the net by one of the Badger women.
While the crowd rejoiced, the referee waved off the goal, claiming that thepuck had been played with a high stick.
After that, both teams skated rapidly up and down the ice, but neitherschool could gain the decisive goal. Half-way through the third period, thereferee seemingly swallowed his whistle as numerous obvious penalties byboth sides went unpunished and fans of both schools loudly complained to noavail.
As the third period ended with the score tied at 1-1, both sides were leftwondering just how an overtime between these two teams might play out.
Would the Badgers’ superior talent and depth at the forward and centerpositions win them the day or would Mercyhurst’s goaltender be able to holdback the deluge long enough for her teammates to score one more goal?
The first overtime was equally tense as the match would be ended by thefirst team to score. Both teams raced frantically up and down the ice doingeverything in their power to try and win the game. As the twenty minuteovertime period wound down, the players tired. Both teams tried to score,but tried even harder not to break down mentally and physically. Such abreak down might lead directly to a score by the other team and a longoff-season for the losers.
The first period ended with the teams still deadlocked and the clock reading10 PM. The teams had been battling for three hours. Another fifteen minutebreak for the Zambonis to circle the ice and the weary gladiators would takeup arms once again.
As the second period began, the palpable tension in the crowd became evenmore pronounced. The longer the game continued, the greater the chance afluke goal would send one team home and no one wanted to see that happen.
The second overtime period began with better play than had been seen at the endthe first as the teams had rested a bit. As the crowd finished a chant of”Let’s go, Red!” someone shouted out, “Let’s go home!” The crowd laughed.
Roughly five minutes into the second overtime period, the referee apparently found his whistleas he sent one of the Mercyhurst Lakers to the penalty box. This was thechance the Badgers and their fans had been waiting for. They swarmed aroundthe offensive end but were unable to find a way around the Mercyhurstgoaltender.
As the penalty expired, UW fans were worried as their team failed tocapitalize on a golden opportunity and the referee would most likely call amake-up penalty on their team in the near future, giving Mercyhurst a betterchance to end the match in their favor.
As the clock ticked on, UW finally managed to push the puck over the goalline. A shot from the face-off circle hit the goaltender before dribblingacross the goal line as the goaltender fell backward. As the crowed wentcrazy, the referee waved off the goal. His explanation was that the goaljudge never turned on the goal light.
The crowd, now thinned out a bit because of the hour, was extremely unhappywith this decision and they made their displeasure known.
As play resumed, both sides stepped up the intensity. Finally, at 10:10 ofthe second overtime, the Badgers scored again. A shot from near the blueline was tipped in by a forward playing in front of the net to win the game.
As the Badger women piled on each other at center ice, and the Lakersconsoled their goaltender who had taken them as far as she could, the fanswalked out into the night. No matter which team they supported, they knewthey had seen two teams leave everything they had on the ice and all for thelove of the game.