MADISON -- The women's hockey season returned after the holiday hiatus. With classes yet to resume, the Wisconsin Badgers have been spending a lot of time on the ice, but coach Mark Johnson said there's only so much they can do against themselves. He and the players were ready to play another team.
After starting the season 18-0, the Badgers stumbled a bit in Grand Forks in the final series before the holidays. Minnesota-Duluth has been a team on the rise. How the Badgers came out on Friday was meant to be proof of how they handled their first loss and about a month to stew on it.
The Badgers proved they play to finish the season, as they started 2016 with a decisive 5-1 win over Minnesota-Duluth on Friday at Labahn Arena.
"There was kind of a fire lit under our butts after we lost that game. We didn’t score that entire weekend, so just getting that first goal and we kept going and were hungry for goals the entire game," said junior Sarah Nurse. "I think we didn’t score that whole last series and if we’d have come in gripping our sticks too hard, that wouldn’t have been beneficial for us at all. Just getting that first goal and getting four in the first period was huge for us."
It turns out there was nothing to worry about as Wisconsin handled the Bulldogs with ease, taking a 4-0 first period lead.
"It was a good first period. As the game wore on we started to get more comfortable and possess the puck a lot more and create more opportunities," said Johnson.
The Badgers were missing junior defender Mellissa Channell and have been without sophomore Maddie Rolfes, so freshman Sam Cogan stepped in and played on the blue line that was mostly untested over the course of the game.
Redshirt junior Mikayla Johnson opened the scoring for the Badgers just five minutes into the game. Wisconsin caught UMD on a line change, but couldn't move the puck out of the defensive zone quick enough to capitalize. But Johnson didn't give up on the play and a quick zone entry gave her a chance to bury it top shelf to make it 1-0.
Senior Erika Sowchuk got the Badgers' second when she tipped in a long shot by freshman Mikaela Gardner
Sophomore Annie Pankowski scored the third on an incredible effort from classmate Emily Clark. The Badgers had dumped the puck for a line change, but Clark came barreling off the bench to put pressure on the Bulldogs deep in the zone. The UMD player lost her edge, Clark won the puck and fed Pankowski, who was wide open in front of the net. She buried it to make it 3-0 Wisconsin before the halfway mark of the first period.
Nurse closed out the scoring for the day. For the fourth goal, she took a feed from behind the net from senior Courtney Burke and slapped one on the net from the right circle that deflected in.
Her second goal was a beauty of a feed from Pankowski on the far circle that Nurse buried, popping the bottle behind Duluth goalie Karissa Grapp.
Both teams were missing players to international play, though the Bulldogs were more affected -- with even coach Maura Crowley off at the U-18 Women's World Championships.
"We’ve had a pretty successful season so far and we’re looking to continue that. We’ve put ourselves in a good spot. We’ll build off that," said Nurse.
With just seven weekends left in the season before playoffs, the Badgers are looking to build on their momentum and carry it through.
"It was nice, especially to score five goals and dominate the game. It was a good game overall. We played well for three periods and we just have to build on it. I think we just have to come back to the rink every day and get better. We have to stay focused every day and come to play, " said McKibbon.
The teams return to the ice at Noon CT on Sunday to close out the series.