Ohio State women's hockey: Anatomy of a championship goal

An awful lot went on before Joy Dunne put the puck in the net to propel the Buckeyes to their second national title in three years.

Mark Stewart / Milwaukee Journal

With her team locked in a scoreless battle against arch-rival Wisconsin in the NCAA Women’s Hockey national championship game, Joy Dunne scored what proved to be the game-winning goal for the Ohio State Buckeyes. But before Dunne firmly etched her name in college hockey history, her goal was preceded by a series of events that all began with the smallest player on the ice.

At just 5’1”, Ohio State defenseman Cayla Barnes was easily the smallest player on the ice, but she had a huge impact on the game. With just over seven minutes to play, Wisconsin sent a pass up ice to 22-goal scorer Britta Curl. Barnes, who was the only Buckeye between Curl and the net, had a slight angle on the Badger. Just as Curl crossed the blue line and seemed to gain control of the bouncing puck, Barnes swept it off her stick, cut in front of the Badger forward, and made a tight turn to pick up the puck.   

As the diminutive Buckeye defenseman started up the ice, she put on a nifty move to get by Wisconsin’s Lacey Eden and suddenly the Badgers had two players trapped behind the play. Barnes’ pass to Hannah Bilka wasn’t perfect, but the Buckeye grad student was able to control it without breaking stride. Just as she reached the top of the right circle, Bilka turned and sent a short pass to Dunne, who was trailing just behind her. Dunne caught the puck, glided a few feet into the circle, and ripped her shot past Badger goalie Ava McNaughton.

When you look at what happened after Bilka moved into Ohio State’s offensive zone, it is almost a perfect storm for the Buckeyes. Bilka’s pass was directly onto the tape of the left-handed shooting Dunne. That clean pass did not give the defense any extra time to recover positionally.

The Wisconsin defenseman on that side of the ice then continued to glide backward after the pass to mirror Bilka. Because Barnes had hustled up the ice to get in on the play, she was able to occupy a Badger forward and a defenseman, who was positioned to take away her as an option.

When neither made a move for Dunne, it left her with time and space. The one thing a defense never wants to do with a good shooter is leave them time and space because they will make you pay. Dunne made the Badgers pay by snapping off a shot that beat McNaughton, who may have been slightly off on her angle. A good shooter with time and space, and a goalie slightly off on their angle is a perfect storm.

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The Buckeyes win their second national championship in three years and gain a measure of revenge against a team they lost to in last year’s title game by an identical 1-0 score. Joy Dunne may have scored the championship-winning goal, but always remember the smallest player on the ice may have had the biggest impact on the play by stealing the puck at one end, hustling back to occupy two defenders, which kept the shooting lane open for Dunne.