MADISON -- The Wisconsin women's hockey team took care of business Sunday afternoon when it needed to, sweeping the Ohio State Buckeyes and opening up the possibility that the Badgers may move into the No. 1 spot in national rankings this week.
The Minnesota Gophers tied Minnesota-Duluth and lost in the subsequent shootout. Boston College tied St. Lawrence. With the two other top teams having gone down to lesser schools and shown their weakness, voters may choose to move Wisconsin up to the top spot.
The temptation might prove too much for voters to set up the showdown between Wisconsin and Minnesota next week in Madison. Wisconsin hasn't beaten Minnesota since 2011 and early scouting reports on both teams seem to lean in Wisconsin's favor.
Redshirt senior Brittany Ammerman notched two goals, including a power-play goal with less than a second left in the game, giving her five on the season and the team lead for goals scored.
The last-second goal saw a Karley Sylvester rebound laying just over the line in the crease. Ammerman dove for the puck and put it home before time expired. She said she knew the game was under a minute, but wasn't sure exactly how much time was on the clock. When she saw the puck, she dove towards the net.
Women ranked No. 1 in USCHO.com poll
The Badgers jumped ahead of conference rival Minnesota for the first time in more than two years.
"There’s no thought process, it’s the puck’s laying there and I want it in the net," she said. "I don’t care if I ram myself into the post, as I did."
Ammerman's first goal was a beauty of a top-shelf wrister that was fed by senior captain Blayre Turnbull. Their line, which includes senior Katy Josephs, has been playing together for almost two years now and their ability to find each other on the ice comes naturally.
Despite Sunday's goals coming from the top line, the Badgers have spread their scoring among the top three lines over the first six games, something Ammerman said can only help the team.
"Last year we weren’t very deep. We were good, but we weren’t deep goal-scoring wise. The pressure, we like the pressure obviously, but it does take away the attention in terms of matching lines against us, so when a team comes in and they have to decide who their top line is going to match against when we have three lines that can produce."
Freshman Annie Pankowski was awarded an assist on Ammerman's second goal, giving her 10 on the season. Sophomore Sydney McKibbon scored the Badgers' first goal, her third of the season.
One strategy teams often seem to employ against Wisconsin is to come out with a lot of firepower and high energy from the first puck drop. They pressure, force a lot of up-and-down skating and try to put the Badgers on their heels. The strategy appears to be an attempt to steal a breakaway goal and jump ahead, then be able to back down and pack in on defense.
As happened on Sunday, the strategy rarely, if ever, is successful and just leads to the visiting team tiring out quickly. Wisconsin is always an incredibly fit team -- it's a hallmark of coach Mark Johnson -- and there's likely not another team in the country that can out-skate the Badgers across three periods. Add in that Ohio State was down a skater after Julia McKinnon was ejected from the game after checking Sarah Nurse into the boards just eight minutes into the second period, and the Buckeyes looked like they were struggling to stay on their skates by the end of the game.
After one period, shots on goal were an even 10-6 in Wisconsin's favor. By the end of the second, Ohio State looked tired and lagging and UW was in control, out-shooting OSU 33-12.
Despite a penalty-ridden series, Desbiens recorded her second shutout of the weekend. The defense in front of her added 13 blocks, but the sophomore netminder has been solid in the early going as the sole starter for the Badgers.
"She is a brick wall, 99 percent of the time," said Ammerman.
For Johnson, the penalties are a thing his team needs to clean up, but his team's penalty kill unit, which was perfect this weekend, deserves praise.
"We’ve used a bunch of different players on it and we’ve been pretty aggressive so far and your goaltender has to be good. When you have a goaltender that is a good penalty killer it makes everybody’s job a little easier. When you’ve got kids willing to block shots and a goaltender that’s positioning herself well, it suits well. There’s too many of them, that’s the problem."