Lacey Eden made a wise decision by electing not to enroll at Princeton in the fall.
The Annapolis resident had been recruited to play women’s ice hockey for the Tigers but there was a high probability the Ivy League would not conduct a winter sports season because of coronavirus concerns.
“I did not want to waste a year of eligibility and a year of college if I wasn’t going to be able to play hockey,” she said.
Sure enough, the Ivy League on Nov. 12 became the first major Division I conference to cancel the winter sports season.
Eden, who spent her freshman and sophomore years of high school at Spalding, was willing to sit out the year and simply start college next fall. However, Eden switched her plans following the NCAA announcement that collegiate athletes competing during the 2020-21 academic year would be granted an extra year of eligibility.
Eden signed with Wisconsin and enrolled at the Big Ten school for the second semester, thus gaining an extra half a season worth of ice hockey. It proved a prescient decision as the freshman forward helped the Badgers capture the Division I national championship.
Wisconsin defeated Northeastern, 2-1 in overtime, in the NCAA final March 20 in Erie, Pennsylvania.
“Wisconsin had always been one of my top choices. It just didn’t work out when I was originally committing,” Eden said. “For me, everything kind of changed with COVID. I decided that Wisconsin was an even better fit than Princeton would have been.”
Eden played in 12 of 21 games for Wisconsin (17-3-1), finishing fifth on the team in scoring with 15 points on eight goals and seven assists. By far her biggest goal of the season came in one of the most critical contests.
Eden scored the game-winning goal 42 seconds into overtime to lift Wisconsin past rival Ohio State, 3-2, in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship game. That was a huge win for the Badgers, who had split two of four regular season meetings with the Buckeyes.
Eden vividly remembers that game-winner, which came during her first shift of overtime. Wisconsin was forechecking hard and created a turnover at its own offensive blue line. Eden was in the corner of the rink when she took a pass from line mate Delaney Drake.
“I saw Daryl Watts in the corner and could have passed to her, but the defender was cheating toward her because she’s such a dangerous goal-scorer,” Eden recounted. “I saw an opening right above the goalie’s glove, and I knew I could hit that spot. I had been playing pretty well the whole game and when that opportunity came it was just perfect and I finished the puck.
“It was such an amazing feeling to help the team come out on top because that was such a huge game and winning the WCHA was a massive goal for the program.”
By that point in the season, Eden was playing on the top line along with Drake and Watts, the WCHA Player of the Year. It took the newcomer time to prove herself to coach Mark Johnson, who has led Wisconsin to six national titles in 16 years.
Johnson was one of the top scorers for the United States team that captured the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics. He scored two goals in the stunning upset of the Soviet Union in what became known as the “Miracle on Ice,” then assisted the game-winning goal against Finland in the gold medal game.
Johnson, who enjoyed an 11-year career in the NHL, is the winningest coach in NCAA collegiate women’s hockey history with a 539-95-7 career record.
“I knew it was going to be tough coming in halfway through the season with everybody already having their place on the team. I just wanted to keep my head down, go to work and try to earn a spot in the lineup,” Eden said.
Also, two of her high school teammates from Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota — freshmen forwards Makenna Webster and Casey O’Brien — had been with Wisconsin since the start of the season.
“All the girls were friendly and super-welcoming, especially after we got to play together for a while,” Eden said. “I liked playing with them and they liked playing with me. I couldn’t be happier about how things worked out.”
Eden started off with the third line and had to earn more playing time. Johnson praised her work ethic following the game-winning goal against Ohio State.
“Lacey’s played very well in the period of time that she’s been with us,” he said. “You look at players and their willingness to earn more playing time and get put on a power play and maybe kill a penalty. It’s just the process of us getting to know her and her getting to know us.”
For Eden to finish fifth in scoring for the Badgers was a testament to the trust those teammates developed for her abilities.
“Obviously, it’s nice to get on the scoreboard and produce for the team. I think I proved that when I got the puck on my stick that I could create scoring chances,” Eden said. “I feel like that helped me gain some respect on the team — just always being ready, always having my stick on the ice ready to tap in pucks.”
Wisconsin began its run through the NCAA Tournament by beating Providence, 3-0, in the quarterfinal round, which advanced the Badgers to the Frozen Four.
“It’s the biggest stage in college hockey, so every single team and every single layer wants to be there,” Eden said. “I remember thinking to myself that four or five months ago, I would never have thought I would be in the position of competing for a national championship. I just felt so lucky and fortunate to part of this amazing group going into those final games.”
Second-ranked Wisconsin took down conference rival Ohio State, 4-2, in the semifinals, which set up a showdown with Northeastern. Watts scored the winning goal in sudden-victory overtime to give the Badgers the win and their second straight national title.
“I was on the ice for the goal that Daryl Watts scored in the final game. I was in the slot area and saw her behind the net and was like ‘Oh, she might pass to me.’ I saw her look me off then bank the puck off the defender and into the net,” Eden said.
“When I saw the puck go into the net, I jumped so high and totally tackled Daryl. It was so much fun and such an amazing team to be part of … that moment will live with me forever. There is nothing like winning a national championship game in overtime.”
Eden’s parents (Bill and Karen), grandparents and brother (Liam) were all in attendance at Erie Insurance Arena in Pennsylvania for the Frozen Four.
Eden recently returned from the U.S. Women’s Worlds Evaluation Camp. She is hoping for an invitation to the U.S. Olympic Team Tryout camp at the beginning of June.