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The Wisconsin women’s hockey team heads to Columbus this weekend for the WCHA opener against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Badgers currently boast a 4-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking; the Buckeyes also are undefeated and enter the game ranked No. 9 in the nation.
Much like the Badgers, Ohio State is lead by strong goaltending and solid, fundamental team defense. Buckeyes goalie Liana Bonanno stopped 70 of 73 shots during OSU’s upset sweep at then-No. 9 Providence. With Bonanno’s 95.9 save percentage earning her the WCHA’s defensive player of the week, the senior, is definitely on the Badgers’ radar heading into the weekend showdown.
“They have a great coach and a great goaltender, so that’s always a very good combo.” said Wisconsin goalie, Jessie Vetter. Vetter has had a good season herself, stopping all 36 shots she has seen.
Ohio State came away from Providence with a pair of one-goal victories, winning 2-1 on Friday and finishing the series with a 3-2 victory on Saturday. The sweep dropped Providence out of the top 10 and moved Ohio State to No. 9.
The Buckeyes graduated a lot of scorers from last season, including three of their top five-point scorers, so a major offensive upheaval is in the works in Columbus. Leading the Buckeye offense are seniors Morgan Marziali and Hayley Klassen, as well as promising freshman Natalie Spooner. Spooner, who leads the team with two points, will be a member of the Canadian National Team at the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y. in November. Spooner will join Badgers defenseman Brittany Haverstock on the Canadian squad.
Ohio State finished 17-17-3 in 2008 and was winless in four games against the Badgers. Wisconsin leads the all-time series against the Buckeyes 31-3-6. WCHA coaches picked Ohio State to finish fourth in the WCHA, right behind Wisconsin and Minnesota who are tied for second.
This year marks the 10th year of Ohio State women’s hockey, and during Friday night’s game, the Buckeyes will celebrate the anniversary by retiring the team’s first jersey.
The Badgers enter the series as the favorite but could be without their top scorer, Hilary Knight. It remains unknown whether or not Knight will be ready for the weekend’s games. Knight had seven goals in the Badger’s opening weekend against Quinnipiac but was hurt in practice a week ago and missed last week’s series against Syracuse.
Even without Knight, the Badgers were able to provide plenty of offense against Syracuse last weekend. Freshman Brooke Ammerman, among others, stepped up to score five goals for the Badgers in the sweep of Syracuse. Sophomore Kelly Nash nicely filled Knight’s spot on the first line, finishing the series with a pair of goals and an assist.
Senior Erica Lawler, who leads the team with eight assists, is confident the Badgers can be successful in Columbus if they bring the right mindset.
“As long as we go there with confidence and energy and throw everything we have at them, we should be able to come out on top.” Lawler said.
With three teams rated among the top five nationally and six in the top 20, the WCHA is arguably the toughest conference in women’s hockey. That said, the Badgers are up for the task at hand.
“We have a great league; they are all good teams, so we know there is going to be good competition. Saint Cloud and Ohio State are always in that mix with us, Minnesota and [Minnesota] Duluth, and I don’t expect this year to be any different.” Vetter said.