With the early-season scoring struggles in the past, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team found success in each of its offensive lines in this weekend’s series sweep against WCHA adversary Minnesota State-Mankato.
In the two wins against the Mavericks (4-6-2, 2-4-2-1 WCHA), the Badgers (7-3-2, 3-3-2-2) scored a total of seven goals, five of which came from players not on the team’s top line.
“As we get deeper into the season, it is better to have more people jumping up on the score sheet and getting deeper into our roster with people scoring, so that was huge for us,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “If you are able to do that, get some depth in your scoring, it just makes you more difficult to beat.”
Entering the series, Wisconsin had overcome a dry spell through the dominating play of Brianna Decker, Madison Packer and Karley Sylvester, the team’s first offensive line. The three combined for six of the team’s seven goals last weekend against the University of New Hampshire and were responsible for more than half the team’s goals since the season began.
While the line continued to produce goals, with two scores in Saturday’s 5-0 shutout coming from Decker, the scoring distribution has started to even out. It was the play of Decker’s teammates that led the team to two more conference wins.
“I think our players are getting more comfortable out there; [Erika] Sowchuk and Alev Kelter are playing well together out there and are moving the puck well,” Decker said. “It’s nice that other people can put the puck away; it gives us depth on the team.”
Sowchuk and Kelter were responsible for both of UW’s goals Friday afternoon to earn the team a 2-0 victory. Kelter also scored the team’s first goal Saturday off a Sowchuk assist. With an additional assist on Decker’s first goal, Kelter finished the weekend with three points, her second multi-point weekend of the season.
Kelter is now tied for second on the team with six goals and is proving herself a worthy offensive player after switching from her normal spot on defense this year.
“[Kelter] was one of the best players on the ice today. You noticed her out there quite a bit,” Johnson said. “It says a lot about her that she can go from one position to another position and that is an asset to us and makes us a better team.”
The weekend was also a critical one for sophomore Blayre Turnbull, who earned her first goal of the year Saturday. The forward was clearly relieved to earn the goal, and her reaction after scoring said “finally” to all those watching.
“I was definitely very relieved. That was my first goal all year; it kind of took me a while to get it,” Turnbull said. “Hopefully they will keep coming now that I’ve got that one.”
Defenseman Katarina Zgraja also notched her first goal of the season Saturday.
“We are heading in the right direction,” Johnson said. “We’ve had four good games here at home and we get the chance to take two weeks to prepare and make ourselves even better for those next eight games.”
Power plays sore spot in Badgers’ performance
Despite the two wins, Wisconsin struggled to convert on power plays. The team had nine opportunities in the two games but could not turn a single one into a score.
The trend was most apparent Friday, as the Mavericks took seven penalties throughout the game to give the Badgers six power plays.
Wisconsin was not lacking in opportunities, with 10 shots on goal during power plays Friday, six of which came in the second period, when UW spent six minutes of play with a man advantage. Saturday was a similar tale, with six shots on goal during three power plays.
This lack of production when up a skater is not something unique to this series – the Badgers have converted just eight of their 44 power play opportunities this season.
“We didn’t score on them, but we created some good opportunities and if you are getting opportunities, that is what you are looking for. Eventually the puck will go in,” Johnson said. “There is a week coming up where you don’t have to play so we can do things that in a normal week we wouldn’t have enough time to do.”
Women’s hockey action will pause next weekend as players around the league, including two Badgers – Decker and goaltender Alex Rigsby – head to Finland to participate in the Four Nations Cup.
After two solid performances this weekend, Johnson and his team are excited about the path in which they are headed.
“After 12 games you look over the course of the play and we have gotten better,” Johnson said. “If we keep practicing hard … we will get better in areas.”
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