NCAA women’s hockey: Ohio State tops Wisconsin for its second national title in 3 years

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DURHAM, N.H. Ohio State won its second women’s hockey national championship on Sunday, defeating Wisconsin 1-0 and avenging last year’s title game loss by the same score.

Ohio State’s Joy Dunne broke through with 7:12 left in regulation. Wisconsin thought it had an opportunity as Britta Curl raced down the ice, but Cayla Barnes stole the puck. She quickly started a breakout the other way before feeding Hannah Bilka at center ice. Bilka took the puck wide and dropped it to Dunne, the national rookie of the year, whose rocket of a shot deflected off a Badger defender’s stick past goalie Ava McNaughton.

Wisconsin's Casey O'Brien has her shot stopped by Ohio State goaltender Raygan Kirk on Sunday.

“Yes, I scored the goal, but there was so much in that game,” Dunne said. “Blocks, great saves—it took a team. It took behind-the-scenes work. It took everything. This is what we worked for. I’m so thankful because this is an amazing team to win a national championship with.”

Both Barnes and Bilka transferred to Ohio State in the offseason to put themselves in a position to win a national championship, so coach Nadine Muzerall said it was fitting that they registered assists on the game’s only goal.

Muzerall also credited the Buckeyes’ ability to stop Wisconsin in transition for Ohio State’s victory.

Wisconsin's Kelly Gorbatenko reaches for the puck as Ohio State goalender Raygan Kirk makes a save during the NCAA women's hockey national championship game at Whittemore Center Arena in Durham, New Hamprshire on Sunday March 24, 2024.

“We knew it was going to be a tough challenge because they have so much offensive power,” Muzerall said. “And we focused really on… not giving up odd-man rushes and controlling the neutral zone. We did that really well, I think.”

The teams were scoreless for more than 52 minutes. Ohio State’s Jocelyn Amos hit the crossbar early in the second period, and the Buckeyes missed an open net shortly after. Wisconsin pushed at the end of the period, but Raygan Kirk stopped Casey O’Brien on a breakaway, and the Badgers couldn’t capitalize on a loose puck in the crease.

Wisconsin's Kirsten Simms and Ohio State goaltender Raygan Kirk reach for the puck on Sunday.

Ohio State’s Hadley Hartmetz, a graduate student defender, exited the game in the second period with what appeared to be a leg injury, forcing OSU to play with five defenders for the rest of the game. Barnes, in particular, absorbed extra shifts. In the end, she led all skaters with five blocks.

“We knew going against such a great opponent as Wisconsin we were going to need our leaders to be our experienced players, and that is Cayla Barnes,” Muzerall said. “She was so responsible back there. You want to have the puck on the stick of somebody like Barnes because she just has such a high IQ and great vision of the ice. She knows to move it fast, be simple with the plays, and then move up.”

The win was extra sweet for the Buckeyes, who were on what goalie Raygan Kirk called a revenge tour after losing to Wisconsin in last year’s championship game and again in the WCHA Tournament Championship. The desire for payback motivated even players who weren’t a part of both losses.

“As freshmen, we didn’t play in that game last year,” Dunne said, “but we felt that chip on the shoulder. We felt that hunger for it.”

Kirk transferred to Ohio State ahead of the 2021–22 season because Robert Morris had cut its hockey program. Muzerall said Kirk came in as the third goalie and worked to earn the starting role this season. She capped her collegiate career with a second national championship, the Buckeyes also having won in 2022, and her 10th shutout of the season.

“I just tried to treat it like any other game, give it my all, and just stay focused,” Kirk said. “I was having the time of my life out there. I think you have to remember that it is just a hockey game. You have to have fun.”

Ohio State women's hockey celebrates after a 1-0 win over Wisconsin in the national championship game.

The Badgers pulled their goalie, Ava McNaughton, for the final 96 seconds, but the Ohio State defense kept them from getting set up in the zone. Kirk made 25 saves. McNaughton made 27.

Ohio State finished 35-4, setting a new program record for wins in a season. Wisconsin was 35-6. Attendance for Sunday’s game was 4,378, the third-highest ever for a championship game and the highest since 2006.

Muzerall said prior to Sunday’s game that she wanted to win another championship to prove Ohio State was building a legacy. Winning a second title in three seasons is a good start to achieving that goal, but it’s just a start.

“Legacies obviously take time,” Muzerall said. “Two is fantastic. I want to push to obviously three and more. It’s going to take continued time and effort. Because you don’t want to be part of history, you want to continue to push and be the future as well.”