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Wisconsin women's hockey: Early first-period goal propels Badgers over North Dakota

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The Badgers got revenge on North Dakota and won a program-record 17th straight at home.

Erika Sowchuk scored the Badgers' lone goal Saturday afternoon.
Erika Sowchuk scored the Badgers' lone goal Saturday afternoon.
Nicole Haase

MADISON -- Wisconsin buried any lingering doubts and baggage they carried from their series against North Dakota just prior to the winter break with a 1-0 win in the first game of the series. The sellout LaBahn Arena crowd were treated to a hard-fought, fast-paced game on Saturday afternoon, but the Badgers  struck first  - just 3:34 into the first quarter - and it proved to be enough to propel Wisconsin past North Dakota.

Scoring hasn't been a problem for the Badgers all season - they were averaging 4.21 goals per game heading into the weekend series - so their inability to put any in the net over the course of a weekend in North Dakota was enough to at least make you scratch your head.

The players said all the right things about brushing off the tie and loss over the winter break, but there's nothing quite like a good revenge win to shake off any lingering concerns.

Two of the best goalies to play the game are manning the nets this weekend and their skill was on display throughout the game. Wisconsin junior Ann-Renée Desbiens stopped a point-blank short-handed breakaway from Meghan Dufault late in the second period and North Dakota senior Shelby Amsley-Benzie covered up a loose puck in the crease as the Badgers were buzzing early in the third followed by a point blank shot from freshman Sam Cogan.

It was the 12th shutout of the season for Desbiens and the 29th of her career, trying her for fifth best in NCAA history.  Her .964 save percentage and 0.66 goals against average lead the country.

But Desbiens rarely takes the credit for herself or is conscious of her numbers.

"It’s one puck at a time. That’s what you have to do. You can’t think about the rebounds. You can’t think about what’s going to happen next. You have to stay in the moment and just focus on this puck that’s coming at you and just do your best," she said.

It was senior Rachel Sowchuk that put Wisconsin ahead as she took a pass of the boards from senior Rachel Jones and sent it towards the net at a near impossible angle. She admitted she was hoping to be able to leave a rebound for teammates, but the puck clanged off Amsley-Benzie's skates and into the net.

The crowd was loud and fired up, fueling the Badgers, especially late in the game. The win was Wisconsin's 17th straight at home, a program record.

"It’s a lot of fun to play under this roof and in front of our fans. Our fans are everything to us," said Sowchuk.

North Dakota took their timeout with 33.1 to go in the game and had Amsley-Benzie on the bench. Desbiens admitted she took a moment to soak in the atmosphere the crowd provided before focusing in on the task at hand.

"We definitely have the best fans in the country and packing the house tonight and having this loud crowd behind us gives us motivation and we use it to our own advantage. But you still have to stop the puck and when they drop the puck, you have to be ready," she said.

Holding on to the slimmest of margins in the charged atmosphere of those final minutes could be over-whelming, but Desbiens said that's when the team focuses on keeping their game simple and not moving out of their game plan.

"Just make sure we keep doing the little things right. That we stay composed and just stay calm and do the little things and not try to do too much. I think sometimes when you get to the end of a game like this it’s easy to start running everywhere and I think our team did a great job of staying calm and not panicking," she said.

The teams return to the ice for their final regular-season meeting. Puck drop is 1 pm at LaBahn Arena.