MADISON -- The Badgers faced by far their toughest test of the season against Dartmouth Friday night. The close-fought game was incredibly physical and featured 13 penalties, but Wisconsin came out on top with a 4-1 win in Madison Friday night to extend their record to 15-0-0 on the season.
Dartmouth, currently sitting third in the ECAC, is Wisconsin's toughest non-conference opponent this season. With so few crossovers between the east coast teams and those in the WCHA, things like how teams fare against common opponents can play into figuring out post-season play.
Wisconsin peppered the net with 53 shots on goal and 99 shots attempted, but Dartmouth's junior goalie Robyn Chemago kept the Big Green in the game until the Badger broke the game open in the third period with freshman Sophia Shaver's goal. She won the puck on a pure hustle play as she skated through a couple of defenders and put a pretty wrister through Chemago's five-hole.
Shaver has settled well into the second line with juniors Sarah Nurse and Sidney McKibbon. Shaver and Nurse combined on a couple of pretty plays as they used their speed to move around the seemingly-stationary Big Green defenders. Shaver's goal broke open a tense game and gave the Badgers a cushion.
Though it's the third straight game that the Badgers have had 50 or more shots on goal, they want to do better than having approximately 50 percent of their shots taken be on goal.
"The big thing was trying to hit the net a little bit more," said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson. "We talked about it last week against Lindenwood, and I think after two periods we had missed the net 17 or 18 times and even if you cut half of that down it gives you more opportunities to maybe create a rebound or score a goal. I like the number we're getting, we aren't always going to get up in that range, but it indicates we've got the puck quite a bit. We're getting shots off and then we're tracking the puck to regain possession. A lot of that stuff is good."
Wisconsin struggled to finish on many prime scoring opportunities, but didn't allow themselves to get frustrated.
"Collectively, you just have to keep battling through and trust that it will come as hard as that is to hear sometimes, but I think we just stuck with the game plan and it worked out for us," said sophomore Emily Clark.
Sophomore Annie Pankowski said it's thinking positively about missed opportunities that helps keep her and her teammates focused on finding the back of the net.
"You keep working. Keep it simple. Every time we get an opportunity, we look at it as a pat on the back instead of 'we should have hit the net.' We say 'oh, that was so close' and switching that mindset really helps us out," she said.
The Badgers got on the board first when Pankowski extended her point streak to 18 games, dating back to last season. Line mate Clark had the puck on the far side of the ice and slid it back across the goal mouth to Pankowski, who was wide open and had a clear shot on the net. Players of Pankowski's caliber don't miss on opportunities that sweet.
Dartmouth tied the game up a few minutes later.
Junior Jenny Ryan scored the eventual game-winner when she collected the puck behind the net and wrapped it around and slotted it between Chemago and the pole on a delayed penalty. Ryan continues to lead all defenders, averaging 1.33 points per game.
Clark closed out the Badgers' scoring when she had the puck by herself in the offensive zone on a line change. She took on Dartmouth basically 1-on-5 and managed to sneak the puck in. Junior goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens had her second assist of the season on the goal.
The hustle and perseverance of Clark's goal was indicative of Wisconsin's play all night.
"There’s a couple of times when you look up and don’t see any red and you try to take it wide or at least get it deep. I think as long as we throw pucks on net, we get rewarded and the hockey gods come back around and help us out every once in a while," said Clark.
It was a statement win for the Badgers and maybe the most satisfying one they had all season.
"It was a very good game," said Johnson. "We had a good opponent, it challenged us and I thought we responded for most of the game and played pretty well. Would like to capitalize on some of the scoring opportunities, but their goaltender played well, our power play was average. We did a good job killing penalties and Ann-Renee made a couple nice saves, so in all it was a good game for us."
It was both the program's 50th win in LaBahn Arena and Desbien's 50th career win.
Wisconsin leads the country in scoring defense, allowing 0.4 goals per game. They score at a rate of five goals per game.
The teams return to the ice at 3 p.m. CT Saturday at LaBahn Arena to finish out the series.