Hockey has a reputation for being a rough sport, and this weekend the Wisconsin women’s hockey team proved why as they took on conference rival Minnesota-Duluth in a series that racked up 21 penalties, a total of 58 penalty minutes.
The first game Saturday afternoon started off normal enough, with each team only sending one player to the box to serve a standard 2-minute checking penalty.
Wisconsin capitalized on its power play as junior forward Blayre Turnbull re-directed a pass from defender Courtney Burke into the back of the net. That was the first of the two power-play goals Wisconsin would score Saturday, sending a message to UMD that if they were to stay in the game, they had better keep it five-on-five.
Head coach Mark Johnson talked more about the success his team saw on the power play, and the attitude it had going into five-on-four situations.
“On the power play, it’s about chemistry and personnel and trying to create some opportunities depending on what the other team is doing with their penalty kill,” Johnson explained. “You’ve got to read what the other team is doing and create some two-on-one situations.”
There were a total of nine penalties in the first game of the series, six coming from the Bulldogs and three belonging to the Badgers. Discipline seemed to pay off in the end though, as UW walked away with the 3-1 victory.
Coach Johnson mentioned how running a tight penalty kill is the key in games like Saturday’s, where much of the 60 minutes is played shorthanded for one team or the other, and how that penalty kill revolves around the work done between the pipes.
“With your penalty kill, if your goaltending is good, and we’ve had good goaltending all year, it helps break down the other team’s scoring opportunities,” Johnson said.
If the Badgers hadn’t been surprised by how Saturday’s game went, then surely Sunday’s got that reaction from them.
The Bulldogs were thrown in the penalty box four times in the first period alone for interference, cross-checking and twice for roughing.
Freshman forward Sarah Nurse discussed how her teammates stayed disciplined as UMD continued to test their patience in the first 20 minutes.
“We battle hard against each other, and tempers flare, but I thought we did a great job of keeping our composure,” Nurse said. “They kind of lost it a little bit but I thought we kept it under control.”
But as the Bulldogs started the second period with another penalty right off the bat, Wisconsin had finally had enough. Senior forward Madison Packer earned two major penalties after an encounter with an opponent, one lasting five minutes for checking from behind, and the other a 10-minute game misconduct.
Senior goalie Alex Rigsby chose to see the positive in the situation, though, explaining that killing off a major penalty helped her team to re-energize and play a little harder.
The peak of the excitement came five minutes later, though, when Rigsby and UMD forward Meghan Huertas got into it down by the Wisconsin net. Huertas was given two separate penalties for roughing, and Rigsby received an unexpected one herself.
“She just kept pushing me,” Rigsby said of the encounter. “I wasn’t expecting to get a penalty because I didn’t retaliate.”
Things finally settled down after the chaotic second period, with only two penalties being given out in the third, one to each team, when the Badgers added one more goal to their score for a final of 2-0.
Wisconsin has the least amount of penalty minutes of any team in the nation so far this year, averaging just under seven minutes of penalty kill per game, only a third of what the Badgers racked up in total Sunday afternoon. But Johnson explained how it isn’t that uncommon in hockey games for a team to see a long stretch of killing of penalties after having multiple powerplays.
“Generally what you’ll see is when one team gets multiple powerplays in a row, like we got in the first period, they call it the Marble Theory, the marbles go from one pocket to the other, and you know the other is going to get some powerplays too,” Johnson said.
Despite all the marble-hand-changing and time spent in the box, UW seemed happy with the outcome of the weekend, having earned a series sweep against a top competitor.
“It was a huge victory for us today,” Rigsby said. “I don’t think we’ve had a clean sweep against them in a few years. It was really rewarding.”