The first win at LaBahn Arena and the first shutout of the season highlighted the Wisconsin women’s hockey team’s weekend sweep over the University of New Hampshire.
The Badgers (5-3-2) put together two solid performances against the Wildcats (3-4-0), winning 5-0 Sunday and 2-1 Friday night. Entering the series, UW faced a four-game winless streak after taking a tie and loss to Bemidji State last weekend, and two road losses to the University of Minnesota-Duluth two weeks ago.
“I think we have been waiting for it all year. In all the games, we’ve kind of been outplaying teams so it was big for our confidence,” freshman defenseman Courtney Burke said.
The Badgers came out strong from the start Sunday, determined to earn the series sweep. Senior forward Brianna Decker put her team on the scoreboard just 11 minutes into the first period. With a two-man advantage due to a pair of Wildcat penalties, Wisconsin moved the puck quickly around the ice until Decker saw an opening from just outside the left edge of the crease.
“I don’t even know how [Decker] saw that opening, it was a snipe,” Burke, who assisted on the goal, said. “We were working the puck around well … and they just couldn’t keep up with us on it.”
Burke again delivered for Wisconsin with a goal of her own in the second period. After faking out a Wildcat defender, she skated through the slot and netted UW’s second goal of the game.
The goal was the young player’s second score of the season, and with an assist on the team’s final goal, she earned three points on Sunday, enough to tie her for third on the team with eight total.
To finish out the second period, junior forward Madison Packer gave Wisconsin a three goal lead, deflecting a shot from just across the blue line by defenseman Saige Pacholok.
New Hampshire did not let up despite falling behind on the scoreboard. The Wildcats remained even with the Badgers in shots-on-goal with 19 each in the first two periods.
However, Wisconsin took over the ice in the third period, outshooting the Wildcats 13-2 and netting two more goals. Decker gave UW the four-goal advantage just 2:20 into the final period and silenced any further attempt by New Hampshire to make a run at coming back.
Head coach Mark Johnson was pleased with the effort put forth by his team throughout the game.
“When Brianna scored the goal in the third there, it deflates [New Hampshire] as far as having a chance to come back, four is a big jump,” Johnson said. “We became more relaxed and start to move our feet more, so [the] third period was good from that standpoint.”
Forward Karley Sylvester found the back of the net four minutes later to bring UW’s final tally to five goals Sunday.
Friday night was a similar tale of early success as the sophomore snuck the puck past Wildcat goaltender Vilma Vaattovaara on a power play. Sylvester’s goal gave Wisconsin the lead less than three minutes into the game and the team never surrendered its advantage.
“We talked about that prior to the game, getting a good start in the first five or six minutes … so it was good to see us create that energy,” Johnson said.
Decker added to the lead with just more than a minute left in the first period. With both teams sitting a player in the penalty box, Decker took advantage of the extra space on the ice. After winning a faceoff in the middle of the rink, she exploded toward the net with Vaattovaara as her only roadblock and slipped the puck around her.
The Wildcats remained competitive with the Badgers all game, and halfway thought the final period, their efforts paid off. Mistakes by Wisconsin created a three-on-one opportunity for the Wildcats, allowing Kristina Lavoie to shoot the puck past UW goaltender Alex Rigsby.
The junior remained consistent in net all weekend, with 50 saves in the two games, 29 of which came Friday night. Johnson was very pleased with Rigsby’s performance, noting that she was not at fault for the lone goal against her in the series.
“That goal, it was a three-on-one, you can’t fault her on that, but she was sharp,” Johnson said. “She gave us a good job of giving us an opportunity to win us a hockey game.”
With a pair of wins in their hands, the Badgers appear to have broken out of their early season slump.
“We needed that sweep with Rigsby looking strong behind us,” Burke said. “It is really helpful, especially playing Mankato next weekend. It’s big.”
Wisconsin will finish out its homestand next weekend with two games against Minnesota State, the team it tied back on Sept. 28 to kick off the season.