After a disappointing 12-6-2 start before the holiday break last year, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team has started out even stronger in the 2013-2014 season. The Badgers are 12-2-2 this season with their only losses coming from top-ranked Minnesota back in early October.
The Badgers will look to cap off their solid start to the season with a series against Bemidji State (7-7-2 WCHA 4-5-1) this Friday and Sunday. The series comes on the back of a six-game road trip for Wisconsin in which they played three teams currently receiving votes in the national polls (Boston University, North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth), finishing with a record of 4-0-2.
“I guess it’s certainly nice to get an opportunity to play at home again,” head coach Mark Johnson said in a press conference Monday afternoon. “It’s been a demanding and very satisfying six games on the road against great competition.”
The Badgers haven’t played at home in nearly a month and the players are looking forward to the respite from bus rides, hotel rooms and rabid WCHA fans.
“As cliché as it sounds, it’s so great to be home,” senior forward Madison Packer said. “Not just so that we can rest in our own beds and not have to travel, but to play in front of our own fans is just incredible.”
Bemidji State’s 4-5-1 conference record places them in the middle of the pack in the race for the WCHA regular season title. The Beavers have key wins over Ohio State and Minnesota-Duluth this season. They also swept their series with Minnesota State in mid-November. Their most recent win over Minnesota-Duluth will certainly give Bemidji some confidence coming into Madison this weekend.
Two key matchups define this game. One is between Bemdji State’s freshman goaltender Brittani Mowat against Wisconsin’s powerful offense.
Mowat has been impressive in her freshman campaign, boasting a 2.1 goals against average, including two shutouts against Lindenwood and Minnesota-Duluth. Wisconsin is averaging three goals per game and has averaged 36 shots on the season. If Bemidji’s defense cannot control Wisconsin’s explosive offense, it could be a long night for the freshman goaltender.
The other intriguing matchup will be between Bemidji’s top scorer Hanna Moher and Wisconsin’s top scoring defense. Moher, a sophomore forward, has seven goals on the year including four in conference play. Serving up many of her opportunities is fellow sophomore Kaitlyn Tougas. Tougas leads the team with six assists on the year, half of which were direct through Moher before finding the net. The Wisconsin defense, on the other hand, has been one of the most impressive defenses in the country. They are currently allowing just one goal per game, tied for the best in the country along with Minnesota.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, they could be without star senior goaltender Alex Rigsby. During a game where Rigsby should have been celebrating setting the all-time record for wins at Wisconsin, she hobbled off the ice late in the second period with an undisclosed injury. Rigsby is still questionable for the Badgers’ game Friday. However, if unable to play this weekend, the team is still confident in freshman backup Ann-Renée Desbiens.
Desbiens entered the game late in the second period after Rigsby went down with the injury, taking just a few warm up shots before being thrown into the game.
“She played very well and gave us an opportunity to come away with a 1-0 victory,” Johnson said.
Desbiens finished the game with a shutout and 13 saves. The performance was good enough to win Desbiens her first WCHA honor as the Rookie of the Week. In all, Desbiens has played 207 minutes this year and holds an impressive goals against average of .87. Whether Desbiens or Rigsby takes their position in front of the net this Friday, the team will be confident that whoever is between the pipes will play well.
“Rigsby is obviously our rock,” Packer said. “She has had an absolutely incredible career here. However we’re confident with whoever is back there and [Desbiens] has proven herself so far this season.”
Whoever wins those two battles will likely gain the upper hand this weekend when the Badgers meet the Beavers for the first time this season. As the first half of the season comes to a close, both Wisconsin and Bemidji State will be looking to finish 2013 strong and carry that success into 2014.
“You want to finish [the first half of the season] off on a positive note,” Johnson said. “Depending on how this weekend goes, it has been a good first half up to this point.”