ERIE, Pa. — Meghan Duggan has a nickname that speaks to who she is and all that she did for the University of Wisconsin women's hockey team Friday night.
The senior right winger and captain had a hand in all three goals to help guide the top-ranked Badgers past Boston College 3-2 in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals before a crowd of 3,482 at Tullio Arena.
Duggan scored the first, assisted on the second and turned in a brilliant individual effort to orchestrate the winner by sophomore center Brianna Decker with 48 seconds left in regulation.
Along the way, Duggan set a school record for most points in a season and saved UW from an epic, historic collapse after it bolted to a two-goal lead 12 minutes into the game.
Teammates call Duggan "Alpha" and they do so with an unmistakable tone of respect.
"You saw it tonight," junior center/winger Brooke Ammerman said after contributing a first-period goal on the power play.
"She's got all these characteristics that embody that nickname," junior center/winger Hilary Knight said of Duggan, rattling off a list that started and ended with same word: Leadership.
In truth, it was a veteran and a rookie who did the heaviest lifting this night for the top-seeded Badgers, who extended their unbeaten streak to 26 games (24-0-2) and put themselves in position to claim their fourth NCAA title. They will face third-seeded Boston University (27-6-4) — a 4-1 winner over Cornell — for the championship Sunday afternoon.
While Duggan was pushing her personal point envelope to 86 points — breaking the school standard of 83 set by Knight in 2008-09 — freshman goaltender Alex Rigsby was playing the role of cool customer.
Rigsby didn't have nearly the workload of Olympian and All-American Molly Schaus at the other end — Schaus made 43 saves and was arguably the second-best player on the ice — but Rigsby was clutch when it counted.
En route to 23 saves, Rigsby made two breath-taking denials in the final 6 minutes and the score tied at 2. One was on a difficult tip in front by right winger Ashley Motherwell with just more than 5 minutes left and the other was a 1-on-1 denial of left winger Danielle Welch coming out of the corner with 1:20 remaining.
Those two moments set the stage for the climatic sequence, one brought to life when UW coach Mark Johnson put his top three scorers — Duggan, Decker and Knight — on the same lethal line.
The clock had just gone under 1 minute when Knight intercepted a BC clearing pass and steered the puck toward Duggan in the right circle. Duggan charged toward the net, deftly toe-dragged the puck around defenseman Katelyn Kurth and lobbed a shot at Schaus.
"Every time I get thrown up with them I know I have to roll up my sleeves and make a play," Knight said.
Schaus, who played with Knight and Duggan on Team USA during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver last year, made the initial stop, but Duggan, then Decker whacked at the rebound and the UW bench erupted in joy when the puck eased into the net at 19:12.
"A big-time play by a big-time player," Johnson said of Duggan.
Knowing how good Schaus is, Duggan said she and her teammates didn't get frustrated trying to solve her as much as they kept looking for varied ways to get the puck behind her.
"That last goal was just finding a new way to beat her," Duggan said. "Throw the puck on net and we just crash, she spits out a little rebound and we just sneak it five hole."
The goal may well have saved the Badgers (36-6-2 overall) from months of nightmares and cold sweats.
They came into the night unbeaten (29-0-2) when leading after two periods this season and owned a 2-1 advantage before being sucked into one of several momentum swings engineered by BC.
They also have been entrusted with upholding the honor of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, which has won every NCAA title since it began sanctioning the sport in 2001.
To see those streaks ruined at such a critical point would have been painful indeed.
Duggan picked up her 39th goal and set the program's single-season scoring record with her 84th point at 4:23 of the first. After Schaus made a strong save on Knight in close, the puck found its way to Duggan, who spun in the high slot and thumped a low wrist shot through traffic past Schaus.
"I think that set us back a bit," said Schaus, who said the conversion was her fault, calling it a "bad play" because she was out of position.
The power-play goal by Ammerman at 11:58 of the first was a thing of tactical beauty. Duggan moved the puck from the left point to Decker in the near circle. Decker quickly launched a feed to the back door, where all Ammerman had to do was tap it home.
But the Eagles (24-7-6) got a power-play goal from defenseman Blake Bolden in the second and tied it on a great individual effort by left winger Taylor Wasylk, who eluded two defenders on a drive to the net at 11:23 of the third.
Duggan kept coming, though, and was ready to do whatever it took to keep her season alive.
"I have a lot left in my tank, mentally and physically," she said. "I was ready to go out and to keel over and die."
For more details on the game, check out http://host.madison.com/sports/college/hockey/html_92ea8820-5129-11e0-9767-001cc4c03286.html" target="_blank">our live blog with Jason Karnosky.