Selection Sunday may not have gone as planned, but no matter the opponent, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team is ready for anything.
In a shocking selection, Wisconsin will host WCHA rival Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA quarterfinals this Saturday night at the Kohl Center.
The Bulldogs – last year’s national champions – finished second in the WCHA this season and currently hold a No. 7 ranking nationally. Sitting at No. 1, the Badgers were surprised to see they would be playing such a tough squad but are focusing on keeping up their game.
“I think everybody in women’s hockey is probably a little stunned the way the bracket came out,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “But as I also said, we’re moving on, and we’re getting ourselves prepared and organized and ready to play Saturday night. We deal with it and move on.”
“I think initially I was shocked just because I didn’t expect to see Duluth,” Senior forward Meghan Duggan said. “For good, for bad, or for no reason at all I just didn’t expect to see them. I think it’s good. I’m psyched. We know them well, we know their tendencies, we know all their best players, and we’ve been successful against them thus far this season. I’m excited to play.”
Saturday marks the fifth time UW and UMD will meet this season. The Bulldogs have given the Badgers one of their two losses this season, as well as one of their two ties.
The last time the two met, the game ended in a tie, forcing a shootout per WCHA rules. Freshman netminder Alex Rigsby stopped two of UMD’s three attempts while junior forwards Brooke Ammerman and Hilary Knight both found the back of the net, giving the Badgers the extra point from the tie.
This time around, Johnson wants his team to just stay consistent and perform as it has in the past couple of weeks.
“At this time of year, it’s your ability to execute, play the way we’ve played all year and don’t let the pressure of the game change what we do,” Johnson said. “Special teams obviously become important. The nice thing is you’re playing at home, hopefully there’ll be a good crowd and it comes down to execution. One team is going to walk out Saturday night disappointed.”
After an intense come-from-behind victory last weekend against Minnesota to claim the WCHA tournament title, Wisconsin feels it is capable of anything.
Down 3-0 halfway through the second period, the Badgers forced the game into overtime. After 14 minutes of overtime, senior forward Kelly Nash finally broke through Minnesota’s defenses, scoring the game winner.
“To come from a three-goal deficit to come back and win that in overtime, it was huge just so we know that we can do that. It was a great learning experience,” Rigsby said.
“We’re all still riding a little bit on that win,” Duggan said. “It was an exciting moment for us this season and one that we’ll never forget, but obviously that’s over and done with, and now we move on to the third part of the season where we kind of need to buckle down and get ready for our next opponent.”
Now with only eight teams left in the race for the national title, every game this weekend will be a tough fight. While the Badgers may have been given a tougher fight than they expected, any nerves the squad has should help it through Saturday night’s game.
“It’s going to be any given day for a lot of the games [this weekend], and it’s one and done,” Duggan said. “You lose, and your season is over. For me, I’m a senior, so I’m nervous. But I think the nerves are going to turn into excitement as soon as the puck drops. We’re playing for, eventually, a championship. I’m excited for the game and just hope that it goes in our favor.”