MADISON -- Just three other teams in Wisconsin history have gone undefeated through their first eight games - and all those teams went on to win National Championships.
It's too early to get ahead of themselves, but it is an auspicious sign for this year's Badgers. With every forward having scored at least one goal and the top-scoring defender in the country in junior Jenny Ryan, the Badgers have a depth of scoring they haven't enjoyed for a few seasons.
Add that to junior goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens' five shutouts on the season and it's an exciting first month of the season. As a team, the Badgers have gone 401:45 minutes of game play without allowing a goal. She leads the country in goals against average (0.30) and save percentage (.980) and the Badgers as a whole lead the country in team defense, allowing just 0.25 goals per game.
But Desbiens isn't getting ahead of herself in net or letting the shutouts go to her head.
"It’s a team effort. You can definitely not do that by yourself. It just makes my job way easier...We’re going to get scored on; it’s just being able to bounce back. But we need to take one shot at a time. It’s not something you think about when you’re in net," she said.
The decisive sweep of No. 6 Bemidji State is a statement for the Badgers, who hadn't faced much adversity in the first six games of the season, causing some to wonder if Wisconsin could maintain their scoring prowess and winning ways.
Despite the promising start, coach Mark Johnson knows that the season has just begun.
"It’s taking care of the puck and managing it and overall today we did a much better job than we did last night. They’re doing the little things and when there’s breakdowns Ann’s (Desbiens) been focused in and done a nice job. A lot of things coming together, but you’re eight games in and we’ve got a long way to go," said coach Johnson.
Junior Sarah Nurse missed the final game of the St. Cloud series and the first game of this series due to illness and hadn't spent much time on the ice in the intervening week, but she didn't have a problem getting right back into form. She scored the Badgers' first goal on a wrister from the left circle that Bemidji State goalie Britni Mowat allowed to dribble into the net.
Sophomore Baylee Wellhausen has been the only Badger forward without a goal, but changed that when she was able to poke home a rebound near the end of the first period. The normally stout Mowat struggled with covering up pucks and pushing away rebounds on Satuday. Sophomore Emily Clark took the puck in close and Mowat was unable to freeze it. Wellhausen got on the board when she pushed the puck over the line.
Senior Erika Sowchuk added a goal on the PP, a unit that hasn't been particularly productive for Wisconsin. Sophomore Annie Pankowski put the puck on net from the near circle and Sowchuk re-directed it into the net.
Pankowski extended her point streak to ten games. She's averaging two points a game thus far this season.
Sowchuk netted her second of the game, again on a deflection. Sophomore Maddie Rolfes rifled a shot from the boards at the blue line and Sowchuk tipped it from her spot between the circles. The puck skidded and jumped right past Mowat to make it 4-0 Wisconsin.
There was a clear shift in the Badgers' approach in the third period of Friday's game and throughout Saturday. Shot charts showed less outside shots and more clusters of the Badgers working between the faceoff circles. They also tasked the defense with getting the pucks to players up close, something they did with success.
"We knew they were really good at getting their bodies in the way of the puck, so we tried to get the puck around them and I think our defensemen were doing a good job of getting the pucks to the net and we were able to get our sticks on a few of them," said Sowchuk.