On a weekend when senior forward and team captain Brianna Decker stole the show, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team continued to pound the net with a momentum-gaining offensive attack.
Wisconsin (19-9-2, 15-9-2 WCHA) left St. Cloud, Minn., just over a week ago in the midst of an offensive outburst that resulted in 11 goals in just two games against St. Cloud State – a statistic reminiscent of last season’s Frozen Four team.
It would have been easy to attribute UW’s offensive success in St. Cloud to the Huskies’ inability to slow down opposing offenses – allowing an average of 3.09 goals per game. But the Badgers put their doubters to rest over the weekend with another offensive surge against Minnesota-Duluth (14-3-3, 13-12-1).
The Badgers went on to score three goals in each of their games against the Bulldogs, bringing the weekend total to six.
Six goals pales in comparison to the 11 goals the team scored a week ago, but UW’s six scores came against a UMD defense that has given up the third-least amount of goals in the WCHA. It’s even more impressive given the fact Duluth has given up three goals only twice in its last 15 games.
Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson is happy with the way the offense is coming along and attributes some of the success to the seniors’ determination to leave UW in style.
“We’re playing well,” Johnson said. “Kids are probably a little more confident in the end of the game than maybe earlier in the season, but one thing about being a senior, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel where [their] career is going to be done and usually that ramps them up a little bit.”
Decker fit Johnson’s bill Sunday with a seemingly refuse-to-lose attitude that resulted in a two goal performance – one of which was the game-winning goal in overtime.
Wisconsin’s goals did not come easily Sunday, though, with an outstanding performance from Minnesota-Duluth’s freshman goaltender Kayla Black, who racked up 42 saves.
Despite UW’s barrage of 11 shots on goal in the first period, Black held the Badgers scoreless until the second period, when Decker was finally able to break through on a one-timer from the right circle that sailed between Black’s legs.
Wisconsin was not disheartened by Black’s ability to stop the puck and continued to take shots on net, ending the night with 45 shots on goal.
Senior defenseman Saige Pacholok said the coaching staff has been stressing the importance of taking shots and is happy with the number of chances UW’s offense has taken lately.
“We struggled with goal scoring kind of throughout the season, so I think getting as many shots and getting as many opportunities will help us throughout the season and in the rest of the playoffs,” Pacholok said. “We emphasize getting shots and outplaying them, so I think we did a really good job of that the last couple of weekends.”
UW applied constant pressure to the UMD defensive unit, seemingly always controlling the puck in its offensive zone.
“I think we kept the offensive pressure on really well and our fore-check,” Decker said. “We sustained a solid one the whole six periods this weekend and that was huge for us.”
The unrelenting pressure of the Wisconsin fore-check may have been just enough to catch Black out of position at the end of the third period. UW sophomore forward Blayre Turnbull was able to score the game-tying goal while Black was still skating back to the crease.
In overtime, Decker continued to pepper the Duluth goaltender with shots until she finally created a breaking point, beating Black one-on-one from the face-off with just 2:32 left in the extra period – cementing her legacy as one of the most prolific scorers in program history.
Decker hasn’t been the only offensive threat lately for a Wisconsin attack that has steadily been gaining confidence. Junior forward Madison Packer has been a spark plug for the offense since the second game of the Minnesota series Jan. 27 when she scored the Badgers’ only goal on a power play.
Since that game, Packer has scored during three of the team’s last five games, including Saturday’s game when she scored a point on all three of the Badgers’ goals against the Bulldogs. Packer, among others, made Duluth pay for their lack of discipline in the weekend series, as the UW offense benefited from 10 power plays on UMD penalties.
Packer says UW struggled to find any rhythm in the beginning of Saturday’s game with the constant stopping and starting of play due to penalties, but the team was able to settle down and find an offensive strength that has emerged late in the season.
“We were shooting pucks into them a little bit in the beginning so we talked about it,” Packer said. “We opened things up a little bit and I think [scoring three goals] is a big confidence booster for us and also to have a good power play. It’s a good tool to have.”
The Badgers seem to have found their offensive attack that resembles championship teams of old, as Pacholok says the offense finally seems comfortable with itself.
“We built up some chemistry throughout the year and now it’s just putting the puck in the net,” the alternate captain said. “Our young ones are getting used to getting scoring chances and feeling what it’s like to score a goal. I think it’s really good for us to have the feeling of goal scoring.”