Frozen Four: UW Women Face Ohio State In Semifinal

The Badgers Are Defending National Champions

The Wisconsin Badgers huddle up during a regular season game against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The teams are set to meet in the 2021 Frozen Four. Photo courtesy of UW Athletics

Without a doubt, Daryl Watts is one of the best college hockey players in the country. In 2018, she won the Patty Kazmaier Award — the Heisman Trophy of women’s hockey — as a freshman at Boston College.

But when she traveled to Minnesota to attend the award ceremony as part of the festivities surrounding the Frozen Four, she did it without her team. They didn’t advance that far in the NCAA tournament that year.

Daryl Watts poses for a headshot
Wisconsin’s Daryl Watts is one of the top college hockey players in the country. Photo courtesy of UW Athletics

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“It just felt weird receiving an individual award when the national championship was still being played and my team wasn’t part of that tournament,” she said. “I’ve always said this: A national championship is far more important to me than a Patty Kaz Award.”

Watts transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison before last season. She’s a finalist for the Patty Kaz again this year. But she’s got her sights set on that national title, and the Badgers are still in the running.

On Tuesday, Wisconsin beat Providence in the quarterfinals of the NCAA women’s college hockey tournament to reach its 12th Frozen Four in 15 years — more than any other team.

The Badgers won 3-0 in Erie, Pennsylvania, where the entire tournament is being staged this year. The goalie for Providence had to make 41 saves just to keep her team in the game. Junior Sophie Shirley, another Patty Kaz finalist, scored two goals for the Badgers.

“I was happy with the way we played, and certainly everyone is excited to get another opportunity to play another game,” head coach Mark Johnson said.

The Badgers will face the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday evening, with the winner going to the national championship game Saturday.

Wisconsin and Ohio State split both of their regular season series. But the Badgers got the better of the Buckeyes when they played in the final of their conference tournament earlier this month. Watts scored two goals, and Wisconsin won 3-2 in overtime.

The Badgers are the No. 2 seed in the year’s NCAA tournament, behind Northeastern. They missed a full month of the regular season due to COVID-19 and injuries. But now they’re back where they want to be, and it feels exciting after last season was cut short, said captain Brette Pettet.

“It’s been a crazy year and after last year, not having the chance to do this, it definitely makes you a little more hungry, so I’m excited for the freshman coming in and the sophomores, I guess too, that didn’t get to experience it yet,” Pettet said. “I’m really excited, and I think our team has worked hard for this.”

Wisconsin was set to host Clarkson in the quarterfinals of the tournament last year when Johnson remembers getting a call.

“The NCAA had made their decision and our game was going to be off, and the elevator ride down and the short walk into the locker room knowing I was going to face my team and the news that I had was not going to be good,” Johnson said. “It was a very dark day.”

Tears were shed, Johnson said. The Badgers weren’t just going into last year’s tournament as an early favorite. They were defending champions.

UW-Madison women's hockey team at NCAA Division I championship
Wisconsin team members gather for photos after the team’s 2-0 win over Minnesota to win the NCAA Division I women’s Frozen Four hockey championship Sunday, March 24, 2019, in Hamden, Conn. Stephen Dunn/AP Photo

Wisconsin won the national title in 2019. Several senior standouts, like goalie Kristen Campbell and Patty Kaz finalist Abby Roque, wouldn’t get the chance to finish their college hockey careers with a repeat performance.

Players and coaches both say they’re not going to take the postseason for granted this year.

“We’re definitely thankful that the tournament is happening this year,” Watts said. “It kind of feels like we’ve been working toward this week for the past two years.”