A banner with trademark phrase “It’s a great day for hockey” hung in the rafter in the Kohl Center Saturday night next to the four women’s hockey national championship banners. The intensity of Wisconsin women’s hockey’s former home slowly increased as the NCAA record crowd of 13,573 screaming fans piled into their seats for the Fill the Bowl event. The excitement reached a crescendo when the Badgers skated onto the ice with music blasting, fog machines, laser lights and all the works. As the night progressed, the No. 1 Minnesota quieted the home crowd with a 4-0 win over their second-ranked rivals. However, Fill the Bowl was still a success and a learning experience for the Badgers in and of itself as they look forward to the remainder of their season.
Despite the loss, the Badgers (23-5-2 overall, 19-5-2-1 WCHA with 60 points) were appreciative of the turnout at the game. The record setting crowd could very well be the largest crowd any of the players will see in their careers, and those fans showed their support of the Wisconsin women’s hockey team in full force at the Kohl Center Saturday.
“I think it was a pretty big adrenaline rush for the team,” senior goaltender Alex Rigsby said. “We never had the fog machine before. It was pretty exciting to come out and have a huge attendance already. It was loud out there today and we were really lucky to have the support that we do with the Badger community.”
The crowd was electric in the first period as both teams shook off their nerves. The noise climbed to a near deafening level multiple times throughout the first period as both teams continued to fire away at the oppositions’ net. But Rigsby and Minnesota goaltender Amanda Leveille turned back opportunity after opportunity, as both kept their opponent off the scoreboard for the first period.
After remaining scoreless for more than half the game, the intensity of the crowd dampened as the Gophers (30-1-1, 24-1-1-0) began to pull away after a goal midway through the second period.
With goals almost evenly spaced apart throughout the rest of the game, Minnesota dashed any hopes of a Wisconsin comeback, eventually sending much of the crowd to the exits before the final horn sounded.
In the end the Badgers lost to the Gophers for the 10th straight game, this time in a convincing manner. The 4-0 loss was a stinger for the Badgers, being unable to beat their top ranked border rivals once again. The game was a real eye-opener for Wisconsin as the team continues their quest for their first NCAA National Championship since 2011.
“To be honest, I’m tired of losing to this team, but it is going to bring a determination to us,” Rigsby said in a postgame interview. “I think we can recover from this; we can refocus and come back from the season strong and into the playoffs.”
The loss was hard on Rigsby who allowed more than two goals for the first time this season and for the first time since a 5-1 loss to the Gophers late last year. Although Rigsby came up with multiple big saves throughout the evening, Minnesota’s high-powered attack proved too much to be held scoreless.
Freshman Sarah Nurse also seemed to take the loss hard after missing a handful of good opportunities throughout the game.
Even in the face of a tough defeat, the Badgers seem to already be refocusing as the playoffs lurk just two weeks away.
“I think it is obviously a learning experience,” Nurse said. “We will come back this week and watch the video, look on things that we have to get better on. There is still season left so we are looking forward to the future.”
Rigsby was a little more blunt with her words about the future for this season. The all-time winningest goaltender in Wisconsin women’s hockey history quite clearly has her sights set on Minnesota, and a National Championship.
“We are definitely going to face them again, no doubt,” Rigsby said. “Hopefully we are able to capitalize on our opportunities and refocus — make sure we do the little things right to succeed.”
Hopes of beating the Gophers when it really counts have permeated the Badger locker room.
“For our younger players it’s a good learning tool,” Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson said. “It is a humbling experience to put on a party and have the score be the way it was, but it’s also a learning opportunity. As I told the team after the game, the next three or four weeks we can make some special things happen.”
Though the loss put a damper on the event, all in all it was a great success. The game was able to draw the largest crowd ever seen at an NCAA women’s hockey game, while raising 4,677 pounds of food for Second Harvest Foodbank in the process.