The Badgers showed character in adversity and scored three third period goals Sunday to complete the weekend sweep of Minnesota State-Mankato.
The Mavericks cut the Badgers' lead to 2-1 early in the third period and in the process swung the momentum in their favor. They began peppering goalie Alex Rigsby, who made a couple of spectacular saves (one so great that when the whistle was blown freshman Jenny Ryan came over and hugged Rigsby) and it looked like Mankato might force the Badgers to the breaking point. Just when it looked like Mark Johnson might need to call his team's timeout to give his defense a break and put a pause on Minnesota State's attack, freshman Sarah Nurse broke away and scored an unassisted goal, her first as a Badger. Just 1:19 later, Brittany Ammerman scored her second of the game and the Badgers were once again in firm control of the game.
This weekend was a good break-in for the Badgers, who go right into the fray next weekend as they head to Minnesota, who hold a 51-game winning streak. For coach Mark Johnson, the season is one game, then one series at a time.
"It’s nice to win, obviously, but more importantly, we can come back Monday now and start to become a better hockey team. You have to start at the starting line and that’s what we did this weekend and now we starting going forward to the finish line . As we go along we try to correct some things we did this weekend and try to improve and get ready to go up to Minnesota this weekend."
Ammerman was the star of the game and the series, ending the weekend with three goals and an assist in her first action back after missing all but three games last season with a concussion and resulting symptoms.
Blayre Turnbull also stepped into the spotlight. She scored a short-handed goal to finish the scoring on Sunday and was clearly fired up about it. She added one assist on Sunday to Saturday's, making it a three-point weekend. Turnbull is a physical player and the Badgers are going to need to see her continue to step up as the season progresses. It bodes well for them that she was such an asset this first weekend.
The biggest question mark coming out of the weekend has to be the power play. The first goal of the game, scored by Ammerman, was a power play goal, but that was the only bit of success the team found. Over the course of the weekend, they had six power plays on which the managed just eight shots and the one goal.
The second power play of Sunday's game is the one you can be assured coach Mark Johnson will be showing his players video of over and over again. The team barely managed to get the puck in the zone and when they did, the couldn't maintain it. One memorable play had them carry it over the line, pass it along the boards, whiff, and then lose the zone. The puck never stayed in the zone on that power play for more than five seconds.
Coach Johnson focused on the power play goal the team did score and acknowledged that it's a work in progress.
"It’s early in the process and we haven’t had a lot of live competition on it...There’s a lot of part to it – moving parts and we just have to continue to work on it."
It's clear from this weekend's six different goal scorers that the Badgers understand they don't have a single "MVP" offensive talent and they're going to have to spread the scoring around. But what they're going to have to find is someone to step into the leadership role that person would have filled. The power play made it clear they need a point person and leader at the front of the ice to. Brittany Ammerman looks poised to take that role after the first weekend, but only time will tell how that plays out.
"It’s going to be whoever can put the puck in the net at that time and that night and that game. I’m happy to do it. But I can’t do it without other players making the plays – no goal essentially goes unassisted. So I think the way that our team is this year with no ‘superpower’ or what not, I think it’s a good thing," said Ammerman.
The other place the Badgers struggled all weekend was on faceoffs. The Mavericks dominated 24-12 on Saturday, though the Badgers did improve on Sunday, were the deficit was just 27-32. Turnbull was the most successful Badger in the faceoff circle. This is something the team is going to need to focus on early -- teams like Minnesota dn North Dakota are going to give them far more trouble here than Mankato did and the numbers will be far more lopsided against Wisconsin.
One thing that the team will come up against a lot this season that they haven't done a lot of in past seasons is quick turnarounds. It's taken a year of tweaking and getting staffing and schedules straight, but this season the Badger women, especially early on, are playing a lot of Friday night, Saturday afternoon series. In terms of attendance, this is likely the ideal, but it's not what the team is used to and the players will have to adjust. Coach Johnson specifically mentioned that turnaround in this first series as one that allows the players to become accustomed and the coaches to see how they handle it.