Following a disappointing pair of close losses to No. 1 Minnesota, Mark Johnson was pleased to see the consistency of the women’s hockey team, particularly the freshmen, as they earned two wins against St. Cloud State.
The No. 2 Badgers (4-2, 4-2 WCHA) trounced the Huskies 4-1 Friday night in a game where UW fired 56 shots-on-net. The team returned Saturday to post a decisive 6-0 game two win.
“Just reflecting on our two games this past weekend against St. Cloud, as I told the team Saturday night or afternoon after our second game, we were able to put six good periods together,” Johnson said. “I thought our intensity and our pace in Friday night’s game was excellent.”
With tough losses against the No. 1 Minnesota Gophers the prior weekend, the Badgers’ ability to bounce back and to execute their game plan against St. Cloud State was a refreshing sight for Johnson.
“I think the mindset, as a coaching staff, we have to make sure our players are on the same level that we’re at, and I think we were able to do that,” Johnson said. “We talked about competing and having that intensity Friday night, and for certainly the first two periods, when the shots were certainly lopsided if you looked at the shot chart, and we were able to do that.”
With a strong sense of mentorship between veteran and new players, Johnson has expressed confidence in his freshman players.
Freshman goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens earned the start in Saturday’s matchup against the Huskies, giving senior goaltender and captain Alex Rigsby a rest. Desbeins recorded an impressive 6-0 shutout in her first-ever start.
Johnson was not only impressed with Desbiens’ performance, but also the mature mentality he saw coming from a young player.
“I thought her composure, I thought her poise, didn’t look like it was her first game,” Johnson said. “What was interesting, as we were taking the ice at the start of the game, Alex was leading the team out. I was trying to think in the back of my mind, ‘does Ann realize she’s playing?’ Usually in our business, the goaltender that’s going to start leads the team out. Someone told me, ‘No, Ann didn’t want to lead the team out.’ She wanted our captain to lead the team out.”
Desbiens is not the only freshman to impress Johnson so far this season. As the team gets deeper into their schedule, the young Badgers will be increasingly looked on to make an impact on the ice no matter who the competition may be. Freshman forwards Sydney McKibbon and Sarah Nurse have both recorded their first career goals of the season and have tallied two points apiece thus far. Johnson has been pleased with the freshmen’s ability to exude confidence and skill, not only in practice but in big game situations.
“I’ve been very impressed since our first practice with this group. They seem to be composed. They haven’t been really nervous at any other point than maybe taking our team photo,” Johnson said. “But I think for [McKibbon] and for [Nurse] to get some production early on, especially goals, it takes the pressure of that away real quickly … They seemed comfortable playing against Minnesota’s top line throughout both the games up there.”
Wisconsin will look to keep their momentum going against a winless Lindenwood this coming weekend.
While the Badgers are primed for another pair of wins on paper, Johnson was adamant that it doesn’t matter how well or poor his team performed last week, the preparations for the next opponent remain set at the highest standards.
“You practice today and then throughout the week, the expectations are we practice at a high level,” Johnson said. “And one thing I’ve learned is, you know, you have to respect your opponent. Don’t look at their record. Don’t look at their history. Prepare for that 60 minutes Friday night like it’s the last game of the season and you have to go out and win it.”
The Badgers will go up against the Lions (0-7-1) Friday and Saturday at LaBahn Arena. The series will serve as the final UW home stand before the team goes on a six-game road stint in November.