It won't be long before some sort of "Baby Badgers" moniker gets applied to the admittedly young Wisconsin women's hockey team. Today's lineup featured six freshman and six sophomores and those youngsters made their presence felt.
Freshman Sarah Nurse opened the day's scoring and added two assists. Linemate and fellow freshman Sydney McKibbon was responsible for three assists on the day. Freshman Mellissa Channell scored the second goal and sophomores Courtney Burke and Kaitlyn Harding rounded out the day's scoring. The goal was Harding's first as a Badger.
For coach Mark Johnson, seeing the younger players step up is a good sign for the season.
"That’s the nice positive for the weekend – heard a lot of first-time goal scorers for us. As we said at the beginning, if we’re going to be successful, we’re going to need contributions from a lot of different people. Generally, confidence comes with that," said Johnson.
Freshman Ann-Renee Desbiens got her second start in net for the Badgers and is now 2-0. Her GAA is a mere 0.50. The experience she's able to get on the ice in real game situation is crucial to the success she'll be able to have once Alex Rigsby graduates.
"(It's) Definitely nice to be able to play another weekend just to get some feeling on the ice and to improve my game. We practice a lot, but the game is different," said Desbiens.
Nurse's goal was a gorgeous top-shelf wrister from the left circle that left Lindenwood's goalie frozen and it came less than two minutes into the game.
The line of Nurse, McKibbon and sophomore Molly Doner has come together quickly this season. Nurse said part of that is because she played with McKibbon prior to them both signing with Wisconsin, but she's also very happy with how well their unit has gelled.
"We’re on a roll right now. We have a lot of momentum going. I hope to keep that up," said Nurse.
Channell put the Badgers up by two with a beauty of a power play goal from the point that showed promise from the young player. Channell had the puck near the blue line and was looking for a pass on either side of the net, but took the shot herself when she realized the lane in front of her was open. It was a nice, decisive play that not all players would have had the confidence to make.
The Badgers looked strong for the first period, but seemed to lose some momentum and concentration as the game moved on. With a young team, these sorts of lapses will happen, but it's a correction the Badgers will need to make and keep from happening against stronger teams.
Lindenwood made it a close game, scoring in the second period on a weird double-rebound and bounce that found freshman goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens out at the edge of the crease and subsequently on her back. The second period goal was the first the Badgers had given up in that frame all season.
Despite the defensive lapse, the Badgers put 20 shots on goal in the second. They peppered Lindenwood's Nicole Hensley, who played an extremely good game.
The Badgers also killed a 5-on-3 in the second period and held LU scoreless on the power play for the game.
Wisconsin came out more focused in the third and pulled away from Lindenwood on a Courtney Burke goal that featured some pretty puck handling as she practically skated one into the net. Just prior to her goal, she unloaded a slap shot that echoed off the LaBahn boards. Before the crowd could recover from that reaction, she'd scooped the puck back up and made it 3-1 UW.
Brittany Ammerman was credited with an assist on Burke's goal. It's Ammerman's seventh assist and 13th point on the season. With the exception of the Minnesota series (where UW scored just one goal) Ammerman has managed a point in every game of the season.
Harding finished the scoring on the night when she put home a rebound off Hensley's pads.
With Harding's goal, thirteen different Badgers have now scored for Wisconsin in the first eight games of the season.
"Depth is always good. Certainly if you have depth in scoring you become a more challenging team to play against. Eight games in, but we need to continue to practice and take what we do in practice and instill it in to the game. We’ve done a good job up to this point," said Johnson.
For Burke, the spreading around of the puck is just an outward showing of the team chemistry that exists.
"It’s a different team than last year. It’s awesome because everyone is contributing. I think if we just keep going the way we’ve been going I think we’ll end up in a very good spot at the end of the year," said Burke.
Nurse added that there's something special that comes from having the whole team contribute to a win, saying "maybe not having one major goal scorer might be beneficial for our team."
The win was Wisconsin's tenth straight at home, which ties the longest streak at LaBahn.
This is Lindenwood's third season competing at the collegiate level and there was a clear improvement in the level of play from the Lions. The skating and puck-handling were much sharper and Hensley was the clear star int he net. The Badgers are now 6-0 lifetime against Lindenwood, outscoring them 49-5 over the course of the series.
Edited to add quotes