The last time the Wisconsin women’s hockey team met Minnesota-Duluth the Badgers brought home five of six possible points. With the Bulldogs coming to Madison this time around the Badgers had their mind set on a full sweep.
The Badgers had the benefit of having senior goaltender Alex Rigsby, Wisconsin’s all- time win’s leader, return to the ice after leaving part way through the Badgers last game against Duluth. After missing eight weeks with the injury, Rigsby was itching to get back on the ice.
“I can honestly say I felt a lot better than I did my first start last weekend,” Rigsby said. “It is tough coming back, but it was a big start and I was happy I was able to get the start today.”
After coming out strong in the first period, the Badger’s finally stuck with 12 minutes remaining in the period. A checking penalty by Meghan Huertas of Duluth left the Badgers on the power play. Courtney Burke played the puck to Brittany Ammerman who found Blayre Turnbull on the left side of the ice. Turnbull was able to take the puck at the net and slip it past a defender and Minnesota-Duluth’s goaltender Kayla Black.
The Badgers struck once more in the first period. Sarah Nurse took the puck to the goal, made Black commit before centering it to Rachel Jones who tapped it in to give Wisconsin the two goal advantage.
The Badgers continued to dominate their opponents into the second period. On the power play the Badgers notched their third goal of the game. Madison Packer took a shot that was saved initially by Black, however, the rebound fell at the feet of Ammerman who was able to finesse the puck over Black’s left shoulder.
“Madison and I had been talking about it all week. If she stepped out I would be open at the back door,” Ammerman said. “She kind of mishandled it, but it got over to me and I was able to score.”
Feeling a bit of pressure from the three goal deficit, Duluth picked up the pace. The Bulldog’s struck late, ending Rigsby’s shutout chances with four-and-a-half minute to go. Emma Stauber slipped passed the Badger defense to get a one-on-one opportunity with Rigsby. Stauber shot the puck past Rigsby, reducing the Badgers lead to two.
The game finished 3-1 and the Badgers were halfway to their sweep of Duluth.
The second game started with a bit of a scare for Wisconsin. Rigsby had to make two quick saves to start off the game in order to keep Duluth off the board.
The Badgers spent eight minutes in the first period on the power play, but they had nothing to show for it until, with more than a minute left in the period, Erika Sowchuk finally broke Duluth’s defense. Nurse slipped the puck to Sowchuk who took a quick shot that was saved by Black. However, the Badger quickly followed up her shot and buried it into the net.
“Black was playing hard and keeping the puck out, so it was frustrating,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “Obviously [Sowchuk’s] goal, that helped out a lot.”
As the first period came to a close Duluth head coach Shannon Miller had some choice words with the referees, a bit of foreshadowing for the events to come.
The physical play escalated in the second period culminating in the ejection of Wisconsin’s Madison Packer for a check from behind. The five-minute major served as a test to the Badgers’ top penalty killing line.
“It was a game that we hadn’t seen, in regards to the penalties and what went on over the 60 minutes,” Johnson said. “But I thought we responded very well, the five-minute penalty kill was especially huge for us.”
As the power play finished up, tensions boiled over and Meghan Huertas got into it with Rigsby. As pushes were exchanged a few other players got into the mix, in the end Rigby was given a roughing penalty while Huertas got two.
In the third period Duluth put a lot of pressure on the Badgers however Wisconsin’s defense held strong and Rigsby tallied her first shutout since returning from injury.
Nurse secured the win for Wisconsin late in the third period. She slipped past Duluth’s defense and put a move on Black while getting taken down from behind by a Duluth defender. Her move was enough to fake out Black and reveal an open net. With a quick flick of her stick Nurse double the Badger’s lead.
“Sydney [McKibbon] flicked it up and I turned and I saw that none of their players were there,” Nurse said. “I decided to get the puck and hold onto it as long as I could. I ended up beating the goalie and flicking it in backhanded.”
A crosschecking penalty with two minutes to go for Duluth would put the game out of reach and ensure the Badgers a home sweep of the Bulldogs.
Wisconsin gets a week off before traveling to Ohio State and then returning home to face off against top-ranked Minnesota on Feb. 14th and 15th.