The University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team left LaBahn Arena Sunday with two wins on the weekend, putting a screeching halt to its four game losing streak.
Wisconsin (5-3-2, 1-3-2 WCHA) earned a two-game series sweep over nonconference foe New Hampshire (3-4, 1-2 Hockey East) thanks in part to UW’s defense.
The Wildcats came into Madison Friday sporting a sizzling offense, scoring 17 goals in their last five games. It looked like a sure test for a Badgers’ defense that had given up three goals to Bemidji State, a team that ranks second-to-last in goals scored in the WCHA.
The result? A dominating performance from the UW defensive unit, holding UNH to only one goal in six periods of play.
Head coach Mark Johnson said his team should be proud with the way it played, but knows there is still plenty of work to be done.
“People should feel good about themselves because they went out and played hard and got rewarded for their effort,” Johnson said. “It’s a long journey. You take each weekend with things you did well and things you need to improve on and then you move forward to the next games. That’s where we are right now.”
A prevailing theme in both of Wisconsin’s games over the weekend was its ability to kill UNH’s power play, as New Hampshire came into the series with the Badgers scoring a power play goal in each of their five games this season.
The Badgers gave the Wildcats plenty of opportunities to get a goal on the one-man advantage, committing seven penalties between the two games. But Wisconsin’s penalty kill unit did not surrender a single goal in all 14 minutes of New Hampshire’s power play opportunities.
Sophomore defenseman Katarina Zgraja attributed the team’s willingness to work together as the reason for the penalty kill unit’s success.
“It’s just communication,” Zgraja said. “In a penalty kill, you are obviously outnumbered so you have to do something about it. It’s just keeping them outside and playing in desperation basically. We talk well in our zone and know our duties.”
Along with the team’s success killing the power play comes concern that there were even seven penalties to begin with.
Zgraja, who was booked with two penalties on Friday, said Wisconsin’s physical style of play contributes to the team’s large penalty total.
“The WCHA is a very physical league,” Zgraja said. “We are used to being very physical, so I know against New Hampshire, maybe they are not quite used to it, so they aren’t bracing themselves. We are just strong on the puck and maybe sometimes we are a little overaggressive, but we can definitely work on cutting [our penalties] down.”
No matter how well a defensive squad plays, the unit will only go as far as their goaltender takes them. For Wisconsin, junior goaltender Alex Rigsby showed why she has been starting at net for the Badgers since her freshman year, tallying 50 saves against New Hampshire and allowing only one goal.
Johnson was very pleased with Rigsby’s effort between the pipes.
“[Rigsby] played very well,” Johnson said. “The goal they ended up scoring came on a three-on-one. You can’t fault her on that. She did a very nice job and gave us an opportunity to win a hockey game.”
Along with stopping New Hampshire’s offense, Wisconsin’s defense was able to contribute in the offensive attack over the weekend, with the unit collecting five assists and a goal from freshman standout Courtney Burke.
Burke is happy with the way the defense helped out the UW offense whenever it needs a boost.
“We were having trouble scoring,” Burke said. “So if the defense is scoring, that means the forwards are eventually going to come in and help us out and score too.”