The No. 5 Wisconsin women’s hockey team returns home this weekend for a series against the St. Cloud State Huskies starting Friday afternoon. They will try to bounce back from their first loss of the season to Ohio State last Saturday, one in which the vaunted Badger offense managed only one goal after averaging 5.7 goals per game in their previous messages. While they split the series, something tough to do at the Buckeyes’ miniature ice rink, the Badgers feel that those were games they should have won.
“We didn’t get the puck in the net,” Badger head coach Mark Johnson said of the loss. “The effort was very good, and we had a couple of people missing that were banged up. We just have to be consistent.”
The Huskies, on the other hand, are fresh off a win against North Dakota last weekend, only their second win of the season and an important boost of confidence for a team that has struggled defensively in the early going. They are averaging just 1.33 goals per game on the year while giving up an average of 3.83 goals.
On paper, this series looks like a sweep for the Badgers, but Johnson and his team aren’t looking past anyone. Johnson, who played on the 1980 “Miracle” U.S.A. hockey team that defeated the invincible Russians and went on to win the gold medal, knows better than anyone that any team can win on any given day.
“When we played the Russians, they didn’t give us much of a chance,” Johnson said. “It may look good on paper, but that’s why we play the game.”
The Huskies might not be as bad as their 2-4-0 record states. They split their series this year with Ohio State and North Dakota, and were swept by the No. 1 team in the nation, the Minnesota Gophers.
To keep the “Miracle” from happening in Madison this weekend, Wisconsin will have to try to keep its penalty minutes down. The Badgers have 42 penalties already on the season and are averaging a minute more of sin-bin time than their opponents. Against Ohio State, who scored two power-play goals against the Badgers on Saturday, Wisconsin had a total of 24 penalty minutes. The Huskies’ top two scorers, forwards Kristy Oonincx and Ashley Stewart, won’t hesitate to take advantage of those opportunities.
“The main thing is not to get penalties,” Johnson said. “If you don’t get penalties, you don’t have to worry about penalty kills. We addressed some issues and some little mistakes we made on penalty kills.”
Halloween also comes to Madtown this weekend, posing a possible distraction to the Badgers as they try to defend home ice. Partygoers are expected to crowd State Street and the rest of Madison all weekend, and that kind of excitement is enough to distract anyone. But Johnson is confident his squad won’t give in to temptation and eat the apple.
“Hopefully we can win a couple of games, and the players are responsible enough,” Johnson said of his team. “We hold them accountable. We’ll talk about it and we’ll address those issues just to make people understand what’s going to happen and what’s going to transpire Saturday night.”
The Badgers haven’t lost to St. Cloud State since November of 2002. In sweeping both series last season, Wisconsin outscored the Huskies 22-4. The Badgers are off to one of their best starts in team history and want to keep up that success against St. Cloud State. And in a weekend filled with witches and devils, their biggest worry will be a team full of Huskies.