In a decisive series sweep over St. Cloud State University, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team showed its offensive talent lies deeper than just the dominant top line.
Scoring a combined nine goals against the Huskies (10-23-3), five coming in game one and four in game two, the Badgers (23-9-2) found goals from seven different jerseys.
While UW’s starting forwards – senior captain Brianna Decker, junior Madison Packer and sophomore Karley Sylvester – remained the usual powerhouse for UW, netting five of the nine goals with at least one score from each, it was the rest of the Wisconsin squad who proved they are playoff ready with a list of contributions in both games.
After the starting trio commanded the ice sheet to begin game one, each scoring a goal within the first two periods, freshman forward Erika Sowchuck found her fourth goal of the season with both assists coming from the Badgers’ third line of defensemen, junior Natalie Berg and sophomore Katarina Zgraja. Continuing the defensive unit’s success, Jordan Bricker tallied the fifth and final goal of the night, bringing her senior year goal count to three.
Four Wisconsin offensive lines saw a significant amount of ice time Friday, as head coach Mark Johnson sees the value of a 4-line offense down what the team hopes is a long playoff road.
“I played everybody tonight, we started off with four lines for a good chunk of the first period … and even in the third period I was playing four lines,” Johnson said. “So we didn’t really expend the energy that we maybe did in other games. Hopefully that will help us.”
In game two, secondhand scoring for UW came much earlier in the game, and at more pivotal moments. Senior defenseman Saige Pacholok ripped a shot from just across the blue line though a sea of bodies inside the slot with just more than one minute remaining in the first period, giving UW a 1-0 lead. After a tying SCSU power-play goal by senior forward Alex Nelson, it was not the reliable top UW line, but sophomore forward Katy Josephs who won back the lead, netting the game-winning goal in the 4-1 victory.
After an impressive freshman season, finishing with 19 points, 15 coming from assists, Josephs hasn’t found such a presence on the scoreboard this season as Saturday’s goal just her sixth point this year. Josephs has been open about her desire to come up with more points for UW all season, and says Saturday’s goal is a huge personal confidence boost with matchups only getting tougher down the road.
“This year I haven’t scored as much as last year and to have a goal in one of these games is a really awesome feeling,” Josephs said.
And with teams focusing their top defensive lines on efforts to shut down Decker, Packer and Sylvester – a trend that will likely continue moving forward – Josephs sees her and the rest of the offense’s role in taking advantage of their opponent’s strategy.
“Other teams have their top lines against [Decker, Packer, and Sylvester] so it is going to be up to the second and third lines to produce too,” Josephs added.
Committing to Consistency
While the final scoreboard shows a Badger team dominating the series, this was not the case for all six periods of play.
After taking a 1-0 lead to end the first period Saturday and monopolizing shots 17-4, UW came out a different, less focused team in the second period. After spending a total of 2:50 with a 5-on-3 disadvantage, the lack of manpower gave way to the lone Huskie goal of the weekend. The goal not only put SCSU back in the crucial game, needing a win to prevent their season from coming to an end, but it also fueled the Huskies’ momentum throughout the rest of the period as they outshot Wisconsin 10-5.
While the Badgers did show their resiliency and ability to take control with two quick power-play goals to seal the Huskies’ fate in the third, Johnson knows that against North Dakota next week and any future opponents, a period like Saturday’s second will lead to much more punishing consequences.
“You don’t want to go through that at this time especially when we have North Dakota next weekend in a one-and-done situation,” Johnson said. “You don’t want to give teams opportunities … by doing that it creates energy and brings the other team back in the game. It’s a lesson learned.”
UW will face off against UND Friday night to begin WCHA Final Face-Off play at 4 p.m. at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.