MADISON -- It was business as usual for the Badgers on Sunday afternoon at LaBahn Arena as they downed the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 3-1 to sweep the weekend series.
It was Wisconsin's 16th straight win at LaBahn Arena - this one in front of a sell-out crowd. It's a huge boost for the players to get the energy of the home crowd, said sophomore Annie Pankowski. Some rinks they travel to, you literally have to search for any fans, so to have the crowd at LaBahn be loud and packed in near the glass is great for team morale.
"It always feels good to score goals at your home rink. That’s a feeling you can’t get when you’re away...It definitely puts the energy on our side, especially scoring goals. That horn is really loud and I think that it really gets under the other team’s skin," she said.
The decisive wins were important to the Badgers' second-half start after they stumbled against North Dakota in the final series before the holiday break. But with this weekend's wins, Wisconsin proved that was more a speed bump than road block in their march towards the postseason.
"We tried not to linger too long on the North Dakota series. We know what we did wrong, we learned our lesson. We just tried to start back up fresh and continue with our momentum off the Gopher series and keep rolling and keep getting better each weekend," said junior Jenny Ryan.
With the season broke into two distinct parts with the holidays and exams in the middle, the games in January carry a bit more weight and the break gives the team a chance to rest and heal. But Pankowski said it also gives them a chance to shake off any of the bad habits they'd accrued early on.
"It’s a delayed kind of reset to the end of that last half. I think at the end of the last half we got a little tired, a little too comfortable and so I think having to start over almost for this second half is going to be really great for our team," she said.
After the pressure of both the scoreless streak and the unbeaten streak that weighed on the first half, the team is looking forward to using the break as a reset to prepare for the push to the postseason.
"For me, it’s just focusing on keeping things simple and not doing too much. I think that’s something our whole team can focus on going into next weekend – just doing our role and only our role and not trying to do too much," said Ryan.
Minnesota-Duluth has, at times this season, been ranked despite their losing record as they've faced two number one teams, as well as number 2, number 7 and number 8 and they've got two wins against those ranked teams. They headed into the winter break 5-1-1 and looked to be a team to be reckoned with.
Junior Sarah Nurse led the Badgers with three goals and an assist on the weekend, while sophomore Annie Pankowski added two goals and two assists.
It was a frenetic first period, with neither team holding possession and UMD pushing the pace, but it was Pankowski that opened the scoring and put Wisconsin on the board just before the first period break. From the far circle, she tucked a wrister in the far post to give the Badgers the lead.
Ryan kept the scoring going just 2:43 into the second period with a power play goal. Nurse fed her the puck at the top of the near circle and Ryan rifled it on net. The puck appeared to deflect off a Bulldog player and into the net.
She is second among defenders across the country, averaging 1.05 points per game.
Nurse scored her third of the weekend on a beautiful feed from Pankowski as the two skated in on the net. Nurse buried it on a one-timer, giving the Badgers a 3-0 lead partway through the second.
Junior Sydney McKibbon was credited with the second assist on that goal, giving her three helpers on the weekend.
UMD spoiled the shutout near the end of the third, but it was too little, too late.
There was a point early in the second where Minnesota-Duluth had a short-handed opportunity that would have made the game 1-1, but junior goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens made a big save. Coach Mark Johnson pointed to that play as a huge turning point in the game. The Badgers came back shortly after that and scored to make it 2-0.
"I thought some of the mistakes we made, Ann-Renée really stood her ground. She made some nice saves when we needed her to," said Johnson.
Wisconsin heads to No. 5 Bemidji State on Friday and Satuday before returning home to play North Dakota on Jan. 23 and 24.