In losing back-to-back games against No. 1 Minnesota this weekend, the missing piece for the No. 8 Wisconsin women’s hockey team was clear: offensive depth.
The Badgers (15-9-2, 11-9-2 WCHA) were able to net just one goal in the 120 minutes of hockey they played. While the competition couldn’t get much harder with the undefeated Gophers (26-0-0, 20-0-0 WCHA) sitting on the opposing bench, the University of Wisconsin has struggled to expand scoring beyond its top line.
“I think it’s tough when you look at the points, and people who have scored and who haven’t,” junior forward Madison Packer said. “We don’t have a lot of people producing points.”
Packer scored the team’s lone goal this weekend during Sunday’s 5-1 loss. She is one of few players repeatedly appearing on the scoreboard for UW, with Sunday’s goal marking her 13th on the season.
Alongside Packer on Wisconsin’s top line, senior forward Brianna Decker continues to dominate. She leads the team in points, goals and assists this season, with her most recent contribution coming with an assist on Packer’s goal Sunday.
Beyond this duo and sophomore line mate Karley Sylvester, the Badgers are not seeing consistent offensive production from their other lines.
“When we are having trouble this year, in the games we’ve lost, it has been due to scoring,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “We need to figure out ways to get to three or four [goals]. If we do, then our chances are pretty good, but some nights we aren’t able to do that.”
Johnson’s connection between winning games and scoring goals seems obvious, but this season’s results clearly show scoring more than one goal has kept UW off the losing end every time. In all 15 wins and both ties, Wisconsin has scored at least two goals. In all nine losses, they have scored a single goal, or been shut out.
The equation going forward for Wisconsin seems simple: score more goals. However, with just seven Badgers with point totals in the double-digits this season, that equation may be hard to solve, unless others begin to step up.
Forward Katy Josephs admits this season has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. The sophomore notched a goal in the previous series at North Dakota in game two, which UW went on to win 2-1. However, it marked just her third goal of the season.
“We need a couple of younger players to step up,” Packer said. “Josephs had a big goal last weekend against North Dakota and we need more of that.”
With only four points thus far next to her name, Josephs knows she, and the rest of her team, need to start finding the back of the net with greater consistency.
“We need to definitely put forth some goals, we have faith in ourselves that we can score,” Josephs said. “I know Blayre [Turnbull] has a lot in her that she can put out there and there are more goals in me that I can put out there. There are a bunch of people on this team that have a lot of skill to put the puck in the net, but we aren’t yet.”
To see how much depth can elevate a team, Wisconsin needs to look no further than the Minnesota team they just suffered a pair of loses to.
All but one player in the Gophers’ top three lines have tallied 10 or more points this season. Wisconsin was able to hold Minnesota’s top player and the nation’s leading goal scorer Amanda Kessel in check, somewhat, limiting her line to just two scores this weekend. Yet, contributions from their other lines and three goals by defensemen were too much for Wisconsin.
“They aren’t undefeated for one reason they are undefeated for a lot of reasons and certainly their offense is one,” Johnson said. “They are deep and usually the teams that are winning their league championships or playoff championships and getting into the Frozen Four are teams that are deep.”
Even looking back to the first series at Minnesota in December, Johnson saw Minnesota’s depth as a problem for his own team’s game.
“That was one of our problems when we played up there, they could dictate the matchups and it causes a few headaches, and even in [Sunday's] game and in Friday’s.”
The Gophers swept that series as well, with 2-0 and 4-1 victories.
Looking ahead, the ability for all three lines to score and win games is going to be extremely important. The Badgers will be fighting for home ice advantage in the WCHA Tournament during their six remaining regular season games.
“We can’t just rely on Decker, and Packer and Karley [Sylvester] to put all our goals in the net because that is how it has been. Teams are going to be expecting that so they are going to put their tough lines against them,” Josephs said. “It will be up to the second and third lines.”
With next weekend off, Wisconsin will have extra time to work on getting every line prepared to contribute moving forward. Losing two games to an arch-rival is never easy, but Josephs said the team is motivated to move on and learn from their past mistakes.
“I want to work on being more consistent with my shooting and my play. I have been up and down all the time, and I think a lot of people need to work on staying focused and being more consistent in their play,” Josephs said. “I think we were hoping to pull out a win in one of these games, but it shows we have a lot of work to do and need to push forward.”