Mark Zengerle's rebound goal in overtime lifted Wisconsin to a 5-4 victory over Ohio State on Saturday night in the inaugural Big Ten hockey championship game, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Zengerle and Nic Kerdiles each had two assists, and the Badgers (24-10-2) won for the 10th time in 12 games. This one required a serious rally as Wisconsin trailed 4-2 with 6:52 remaining in regulation after Tanner Fritz scored for the Buckeyes.
But Ohio State's defense leaked at the wrong time. Jefferson Dahl answered with a goal for Wisconsin just 20 seconds later to trim the deficit back to one. Then 28 seconds after that, Tyler Barnes knocked one in to tie it with 6:04 remaining. Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik, the captain for the Badgers in 1990 when they won the NCAA championship, called timeout.
The crowd, generously counted at more than 10,000, was mostly Badgers backers. They came to life after those rapid-fire goals, and the ensuing singing and chanting came with extra oomph, sounding at least a little more like a Saturday night at the Kohl Center than a neutral site in another state with the arena more than half empty.
The Badgers didn't need to win this to keep playing, but their bid for one of the four top seeds in the NCAA tournament was at stake. So was their pursuit of consecutive conference tournament titles for the first time since 1982 and 1983 in the WCHA.
Minnesota, which lost 3-1 to Ohio State in the semifinals on Friday night, was safely in the 16-team field, too. But the only chance the Buckeyes (18-14-5) had was forcing their way in, after finishing fourth in the six-team league.
Ryan Dzingel and Nick Oddo scored in the first period and assisted on each other's goal, giving the Buckeyes a 2-0 lead with less than 9 minutes elapsed.
Dzingel, the conference's leading scorer and one of 10 candidates for the Hobey Baker award, sent a wrist shot over Badgers goalie Joel Rumpel for the first one. Then the junior left wing fired the first of three attempts in another attack a little later. Rumpel turned aside Nick Schilkey's rebound try, too, but Oddo was there to knock in the puck after the ricochet.
Defenseman Jake McCabe scored with a power-play slap shot with 23 seconds left in the opening frame to put the Badgers on the board. Morgan Zulinick, with the Badgers again on the man advantage, tied it in the second period.
Defenseman Clark Cristofofoli's backhander, his first college goal, gave the Buckeyes a 3-2 edge they carried for more than 20 minutes after that.
McCabe and Zengerle joined Dzingel as first team All-Big Ten selections this season.
The tournament will return to Xcel Energy Center, where the Minnesota Wild play, in 2016. Joe Louis Arena, the home of the Detroit Red Wings, will host in 2015 and 2017.