A night after getting dominated in the game’s final 20 minutes and eventually falling to No. 4 North Dakota, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team was in need of a win to keep pace in the WCHA standings and avoid a sweep at home.
The No.2-ranked Badgers dropped in an early hole, and it looked like Saturday all over again. But with a stellar second period, Wisconsin jumped back out in front and then held on the rest of the way for a 4-1 victory.
Unlike Saturday where Wisconsin (17-3-2 overall, 13-3-2-1 WCHA) struggled mightily in the third period, Badgers’ head coach Mark Johnson thought his squad played well throughout almost the entire game, offering an exciting atmosphere for the second-straight sellout crowd of 2,273 at LaBahn arena.
“I think if you take maybe the first four or five minutes away, 55-56 minutes of pretty good stuff. It was certainly an entertaining hockey game. People that watched that got to witness two hard, competitive teams going at it toe-to-toe,” Johnson said.
Those first few minutes of the game that Johnson referenced saw North Dakota (13-5-2, 10-4-2-1) strike for the first goal only 3 minutes, 55 seconds into the game. Along with the early deficit Wisconsin also had trouble entering the offensive zone and putting shots on goal.
But as Johnson discussed, the early start didn’t have a lot to do with what the Badgers were doing wrong, instead it was merely part of the ebb and flow of the game and the quality opponent.
“[North Dakota is] confident, they’ve got good players, they scored early and so you’re dealing with some adversity,” Johnson said. “And for the most part we responded pretty well once we got our feet under our belt a little bit. But that’s part of hockey. If you went out and had a rough shift, the next one’s got to be better.”
It took a while for Wisconsin to respond on the scoreboard, but after North Dakota netted the first goal the Badgers’ play noticeably increased.
After a plethora of quality chances to open the period, Blayre Turnbull finally equalized the score 3:33 into the second when she zipped a wrist shot over the near side shoulder of UND goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie (22 saves). Katy Josephs’ originally fed the wide open Turnbull from across the ice in the left circle, and picked up the assist on the play along with Kelly Jaminski.
A few minutes later with 10:58 to go in the second it was Josephs’ turn, as she punched home a rebound following up Katarina Zgraja’s initial shot on a breakaway opportunity.
And then with Wisconsin on the penalty kill at the 12-minute mark, Badgers’ forward Sarah Nurse broke out of the zone and slipped behind the UND defense. On her backhand while skating down the slot, Nurse shoved the puck 5-hole to put Wisconsin up 3-1.
But from the time Wisconsin went up 2-1 and throughout much of the rest of the game, the story wasn’t Wisconsin’s offense but the defense, specifically freshman goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens.
Arguably the biggest save of the night came, oddly enough, with Wisconsin on the powerplay in the middle of the second period already leading 2-1. Two Badger players collided, allowing North Dakota’s Andrea Dalen and Becca Kohler a 2-on-0 opportunity. After entering the Wisconsin zone, Kohler received a pass from Dalen and fired at the net, but Desbiens came up big with her left pad and smothered the puck.
Late in the game UND had several key chances with the goaltender pulled for an extra-attacker, but once again Desbiens, who had 29 saves in the game, stood strong and had a response for each shot to keep Wisconsin up by two.
“I think we were definitely lucky to have her in net today,” Turnbull said of Desbiens. “Without her I don’t think we would’ve been able to win that game. They definitely had some chances to score at the end of the game there when they pulled their goalie and had 5-on-4. [Desbiens] was all over the place making saves, so it was great today.”
Turnbull then found herself with the puck and ripped it into the empty net with 20 seconds left to seal the deal for the Badgers.
So, 24 hours removed from the first loss in 16 games with the question of just how his team would respond to the circumstances, Johnson got his answer and the answer he was hoping for.
“We challenged our group as we talked about last night,” Johnson said. “‘How are we going to respond? You haven’t lost a game in a few months and you haven’t lost a game at home? How are you going to come back and play better than you did last night?’ And we did that, so we got to be happy with it.”
With the win Wisconsin remained in second place and now has 42 points—only one point behind league-leading Minnesota.