The last time the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team faced off against Ohio State, they swept the Buckeyes at home. The second series of the season between the two will occur this weekend in Columbus, Ohio.
Though the Badgers (21-3-2, 17-3-2-1 WCHA) were able to take care of the Buckeyes (11-12-5, 6-11-5-2) the first time around, this time Ohio State has a lot at stake as they set their sights on becoming the number two team in the nation.
When the two teams took the ice against each other for the first time in the 2013-14 season, it was a battle of two top 10 squads. Right off the bat Ohio State attacked quickly in both games. Within the first 30 seconds, Ohio State went up 1-0 on Wisconsin. Though the Badgers eventually clawed back the lead both Friday and Saturday, Ohio State was competitive and continually threatened Wisconsin goaltender Alex Rigsby throughout the game.
One of the Buckeyes’ keys to being competitive against Wisconsin earlier this year was the speed of their team, particularly their forwards. The Buckeyes transition and strike quickly, which left the Badgers vulnerable on the back line.
Critical to that speed attack is sophomore forward Julia McKinnon and freshman forward Claudia Kepler. Kepler, a Verona, Wis., native, scored both of the opening goals in the team’s first series with Wisconsin. Since then Kepler has become the Buckeyes leading goal scorer, notching 14 goals in her first season.
This weekend’s games are critically important to the Buckeyes as they attempt to clinch home ice for the WCHA playoffs. A loss would completely eliminate Ohio State’s hopes of home ice advantage in the playoffs.
Along with conference seeding, a win against Wisconsin would be a great boost to the Buckeyes morale at the end of the season. As Ohio State needs to essentially win out in order to make the NCAA tournament, a win against Wisconsin could very well define their season.
“When you are in this position [being the number two team in the country] you have a target on your back,” redshirt junior Brittany Ammerman said. “Everyone plays a little bit harder, a bit more on edge.”
The Buckeyes’ determination to defeat the Badgers has been made quite clear as Ohio State prepares the OSU Ice Rink for a Whiteout. Along with offering free admission and bringing in Brutus the Buckeye (a rare occasion for women’s hockey at Ohio State) Ohio State’s athletic department, in the last week, has painted social media with the phrase, “Whiteout Wisconsin.”
In addition, Ohio State has a significant amount of momentum going into their series with Wisconsin. The Buckeyes have won four straight over WCHA opponents and are undefeated in their last seven. In fact, they only have three losses in their last 14 games, all to No. 1 Minnesota.
Wisconsin has also continued to play consistently since their last matchup with Ohio State. Their special teams especially have been great all year. Both Wisconsin’s power play and penalty kill are ranked second in the nation. Similarly Wisconsin has the best scoring defense in the country allowing just more than a goal per game and has gotten stronger with Rigsby making her return to the ice two weeks ago. With Rigsby back with the team, Wisconsin has gotten back the best goaltender in the country in terms of goals against average. Rigsby is averaging just below one goal allowed per game and brings more experiences than her freshman back up Ann-Renee Desbiens.
With both teams playing so well, the series should be fairly competitive. Both teams will be looking to use this opportunity to measure up against another hot team and it should create an entertaining series.
“[I am] looking forward to the opportunity to go down to Columbus and play Ohio State, a team that hasn’t lost in eight games (sic),” head coach Mark Johnson said. “It will be a very competitive, spirited series, and looking forward to the challenge.”
With two weeks of rest under the belt since their last game, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team is looking to use this series as a spring board into next week’s matchups with Minnesota.
Wisconsin and Ohio State play Friday at 7:07 p.m. ET and Saturday at 4:07 p.m. ET.