Freshman Annie Pankowski came to Wisconsin with a lot of scrutiny and a lot of expectations and she's done nothing but deliver in the Badgers' first five games. Friday night, she wiggled a small monkey off her back when she tallied her first goal in the red and white after having notched nine assists. Those ten points put her in second place in the WCHA in scoring, behind teammate Karley Sylvester, who's goal and assist Friday give her 11 points on the season.
In only her fifth game, it's probably not fair to say Pankowski had a monkey on her back, but she did agree it was nice to get the first goal out of the way and off everyone's mind. Ironically, as she's been racking up the assists, even her goal was meant for someone else's stick.
"It was an awesome experience. It was kind of a surprise because I was shooting for a pass, but I’ll take the goal where I can get it."
Pankowski wasn't the only Badger freshman to tally her first. Baylee Wellhausen, the Badger legacy and niece of women's hockey legend Cammi Granato, did a little skate shuffling dance when she put the puck in the net in the second period, so excited was she to score her first Badger goal.
"Oh my god, it was such an excitement. You could probably tell with my celebration. It was nice to just finally put the puck in the net for once."
In fact, half the Badger goals came from freshman. Friday showed the potency of this Badger offense, as six different Wisconsin players scored and an additional two were on the score sheet with assists. Goals were scored by each of the Badgers' top three lines.
"Early part of the season and everybody’s chipping in and it‘s a good situation to be in. It obviously helps you win hockey games, but more importantly it gives confidence to players. It was a good effort, obviously we have to clean up some things, but it was a good home victory and good way to start the season," said coach Mark Johnson.
Where last year the early season story was about the need to find scoring and have players step up, it's a completely different look for the Badgers this year.
"It’s really awesome to see how deep our forwards are .. . I feel I can really trust everyone on our team out on the ice and that’s an awesome – that’s what you need for a team to go far in the playoffs," said Pankowski.
"For us to have that much depth and that much balance is unbelievable," said Wellhausen.
The Badgers scored their six goals on just 29 shots, a low total for them over the first few games. Ohio State peppered sophomore goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens late in the game, but she maintained the shut out, despite the Buckeyes getting nine power plays during the game and five in the final period.
Thanks to a short-handed goal scored by captain Blayre Turnbull, the eighth of her career, Wisconsin scored more goals on the penalty kill than they allowed.
Turnbull's goal tied her with Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker for most career short-handed goals in Wisconsin history - pretty elite company that Turnbull had no idea she was anywhere near being a part of.
She said the Badgers don't look to be on the offensive when they have a penalty kill, but she clearly has an instinct for when to jump on the puck. That, she says, starts with the face-off.
"It just boils down to executing our penalty kill. We try to trigger it off the draw to get puck possession and when we do that we end up being successful even in the offensive zone. Obviously the objective of the penalty kill isn’t to score, but when we execute it as well as we’ve been doing, we sometimes we get lucky and get a goal."
The Badgers took a lot of penalties, something coach Johnson noted they'd need to work on.
"That’s probably the most penalties we’ve had in I don’t know how many years...Anne probably made four or five really nice saves (in the third period), so she earned that shut out. We have to do a better job of staying out of the box."
Pankowski, who has now taken five penalties, said the physicality is different in the league, but that knows she's getting them for working heard.
Though there are things to work on, for Wellhausen, playing and scoring in the home opener was a dream come true. She's is a Wisconsin native who dreamed of playing for the Badgers, so finally donning a jersey and playing in Madison was a surreal experience for her.
"Going in to today I was thinking about how I used to come and watch – to be the little girl high-fiving the players and watching the warm ups and being so excited. And I was thinking to myself, 'Wow I'm going to be that person today.' It was just amazing getting out there. I couldn’t stop smiling."