Watts, the leading scorer in NCAA hockey this season, controlled a loose puck in the Northeastern end and stopped behind the goal. Seeing no available teammate, she shot the puck in front and it ricocheted off defender Megan Carter and in past goalie Aerin Frankel. Carter bent over in anguish as Watts and her teammates dropped their sticks and gloves in celebration.
Ironically, Watts and Frankel are two of the finalists for the 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award to be announced 27 March on NHL Network. The third is University of Minnesota forward Grace Zumwinkle.
Northeastern advanced after an impressive 5-1 win over Robert Morris and then eliminating Minnesota-Duluth, 3-2, in a thrilling overtime game.
“Literally, I'm speechless right now," Watts said after her 19th goal of the year. "I have no words. This is unbelievable… I was behind the net and no one was pressuring me. I took a moment to see my options. I noticed that the goalie was down, so I saw the opportunity to shoot it off her back. I think that’s how it went in.”
Not quite, but close enough. Watts had no idea it bounced off a defender until told.
Technically it wasn’t Wisconsin’s second win in a row because last year’s finals was cancelled due to Covid-19. But the university is now tied with Minnesota with six championships in their history, and winning coach Mark Johnson, part of the Miracle on Ice men’s Olympic team from 1980, has been head coach for all six titles, most among coaches.
“I haven't met a national championship trophy I didn't like," Johnson enthused.
“If was sort of the script, if I could write it and have someone score the game-winning goal, it would be her because one of the reasons she wanted to come to Wisconsin was the opportunity to win a national championship,” Johnson said.
Watts, a Toronto native, was the first freshman to win the Patty Kazmaier award back in 2017/18 with Boston College, but after two years she felt the team lacked chemistry. She transferred to Wisconsin and played this year on a line with another Canadian, Sophie Shirley, and Abby Roque, a Michigander, and the three formed one of the highest-scoring lines in women’s college history.
Watts and Shirley also won two silver medals with Canada at the 2016 and 2017 U18 Women’s World Championship, and Roque won silver at the 2014 WW18 and gold at the 2015 edition.
“I liked the city of Madison, and it’s a great school,” Watts explained. “The hockey program is unbelievable and the coaches Mark, Jackie, and Dan are awesome. And then the team as a whole has such a great track record, like winning the NCAA title last year. I’m glad to be here.”
"I think we've been tested in overtime a few times this year so we had experience with that and we had trust that the person next to us was going to get the job done," she said.
"At the end of the day it's hockey, and someone's gotta win,” said Wisconsin captain Brette Pettet, a Nova Scotian who also won four championships with Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota. “We were lucky to pull it out there at the end, and I think we played a great game and we deserved it. I'm very proud of the girls."
The game was tight-checking and intense from start to finish. Although neither team had been shut out all year, the score was 0-0 through two periods of play. Then, a quick spurt of action took the game to another level.
Makenna Webster opened the scoring at 11:00 by knocking in a rebound from a Casey O’Brien shot that Frankel stopped. Just 39 seconds later, Swiss star Alina Muller spotted French linemate Chloe Aurard at the top of the circle, and Aurard’s bullet shot to the top corner tied the game. The rest of the game felt like overtime.
Northeastern had a great chance to win in regulation with a late power play, but the Badgers’ defence rose to the occasion and Watts did the rest.
Wisconsin finished the season with a 17-3-1 record while Northeastern was 22-2-1, coming into the finals with an 18-game winning streak and 22-game unbeaten streak.