MADISON -- Over the course of the season, Sunday's 4-0 win over Clarkson at the LaBahn Arena will not stand out among the crowd. It didn't change the standings; it was over a non-conference opponent. In the end, it'll be one of many.
But in terms of momentum and a team's psyche, coach Mark Johnson's 350th career win may prove a turning point in the Badgers' season.
With just eight regular-season games left on the calendar, Wisconsin was struggling offensively and needed to find a way to end woes that seemed to have no solution. While the team was playing well, the string of games it'd put together since the winter break wouldn't put the Badgers through the postseason and they needed to find a way to break out of what may as well be called a slump.
"I’m happy for the team just because I thought they worked real hard," John son said. "They played real hard for 60 minutes here today and got rewarded for that effort. The big thing is not to get frustrated -- keep persevering. Eventually the puck’s going to go in. Instead of the puck hitting the post and going out, the puck hit the post and went in. The second one had a little bit of eyes to get in."
Freshman Annie Pankowski made sure they did so -- decisively. The phenomenal freshman tallied her second career hat trick as she sniped three goals past Clarkson freshman goalie Shea Tiley, all from the right circle.
Pankowski likened it to a dam breaking, and admitted the whole locker room was feeling lighter and more relieved after winning in a decisive fashion.
"Absolutely, It was nice to see a couple of bounces go our way and to win a game in regulation by a good margin."
Tiley, larger than most goalies at 5'10, proved a formidable opponent in Saturday's game, but Pankowski and the Badgers' offense was able to figure her out a bit on Sunday. Pankowski says advance scouting by her coaches helped with that.
"Our coaches had been telling us that this goalie is big, so she drops down low to fire it up top if you get in close," Pankowski said. "I think it was something we’ve been emphasizing in practice, finding that sweet spot and getting that shot off quick."
For Johnson's part, he said Pankowski is still transitioning to college and he expects that she'll continue to improve.
"With Annie, just adapting to the college game and schedule and travel and all the things that go into being a college player, we’ve worked with her with her shot release and accuracy and as she improves in those areas I anticipate the puck going in more," Johnson said. "She’s got enough hockey sense to get her some scoring opportunities and I think as her shot gets better and the accuracy portion improves, I think the puck will find the back of the net more often. She’s doing well."
The second period featured eight penalties, four on each team. The Badgers once again did not allow a power play goal -- they lead the country in penalty kill at .963 and have killed the last 40 penalties. The last power-play goal they allowed was on Oct. 25 against Bemidji State.
The Badgers' third goal could have been drawn up by Johnson in terms of the types of shots he's been asking his players to make. Senior captain Blayre Turnbull brought the puck down and put a shot on Tiley that was low-percentage -- it wasn't going to score -- but Tiley gave up a rebound that sat a few feet in front of the net and senior Karley Sylvester was trailing Turnbull and buried the puck.
It was exactly the sort of play Johnson has been emphasizing for his players -- instead of putting the pucks all around the net, use high-percentage plays to keep chances high. It was a formula that was finally successful for WIsconsin.
Clarkson's top two forward lines feature three players that are 5'11 and three more that are 5'8 or taller. Three of the Badgers' six defenders are 5'5 or shorter.
The larger offensive players could have been an issue for sophomore goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens, but she said her defense did a good job of handling the size difference.
"I think our defense stepped up this weekend and just made sure to I was able see the puck, pushing them to the side and taking their stick away so they were not able to get any tips. Hats off to my defense for the amazing job they did this weekend."
Johnson did not know he was approaching a milestone until someone told him about it after the game.
"It’s not about me, it’s about the kids in the locker room and coming together and developing as teammates and understanding roles and trying to do something as the season progresses," he said. "[It was a] good day.
The Badgers will head to Minnesota State next weekend.
Vines of all of the goals are courtesy of Jashvina Shah.