MADISON — It was with a sigh of relief that Wisconsin got on the board just 1:10 into Saturday night’s game en route to a 5-2 win over Cornell. After taking more than 50 minutes to find the back of the net on Friday despite finishing the game with 54 shots, the early goal for the Badgers was just the first sign that Saturday’s game would be very different
Where Cornell seemed a bit passive on Friday, packing in front of its net and allowing Wisconsin to hold possession for long periods of time, on Saturday, the Big Red came out physical and fast, pushing the puck up and down the ice much more frequently.
It was the first time these teams have ever met each other and this weekend was just the second out-of-conference series the Badgers have played so far. With such a defined east and “west” divide in women’s college hockey, the few chances teams get to cross those boundaries help them get a better idea of where they’ll match up at the end of the season.
“It was a good opportunity for us to play against a worthy opponent and come away with two wins,” coach Mark Johnson said. “Tonight was a battle and they competed very hard—when you play against opponents that do that, you end up getting better by playing them. We’ll gain a lot of things from tonight’s game other than the victory. ... Overall it will help us become stronger.”
For the players, the out-of-conference games are a chance to get a feel for their place on the national landscape and gain momentum.
“I thought they brought a different challenge than what we see from some of our WCHA opponents, so it was nice to kind of see what the East Coast has to bring and I think that we rose to that challenge,” Annie Pankowski said. “I think it just gives us a little bit of confidence playing out-of-conference games and winning.”
Johnson said he showed his team video of Friday’s game to pinpoint places it could generate better scoring opportunities.
“We talked about where can they score and how can they score, and if you want to score there are certain areas you can go to and have a strong stick and anticipate where the puck might be in traffic, my percentages are going to go up,” Johnson said. “That's sort of what's happened.”
Junior Maddie Rolfes opened the scoring for Wisconsin with her first goal of the season. Wisconsin was cycling the puck on the power play and put it on net, where Rolfes was open on the far post and tucked home a loose puck.
Cornell answered back midway through the first before Pankowski scored her first of two, putting home a rebound off a spectacular effort from Mellissa Channell.
The Big Red evened the score again a few minutes before the end of the first on a power-play goal, but that would be it on offense.
Wisconsin took control of the game in the second period and Pankowski scored the game winner in impressive fashion. She picked Cornell’s pocket near the offensive zone blue line and was in on Cornell goalie Marlène Boissonnault all alone. Boissonnault bit on the early dangle and Pankowski had no problem pulling the puck back and tucking it around her for top-10 worthy goal. It was Pankowski’s sixth goal in the past seven periods.
The rash of goals helps quell some chatter about Pankowski’s output and allows her to settle into her own game.
“I think it was just a little bit of patience and as soon as that first one went in I felt a lot easier and I felt like I was back to my normal self,” she said.
After struggling so much on Friday, the Badgers were able to take advantage of second-chance opportunities. Sophomore Sam Cogan gave the Badgers a 4-2 lead when she was able to slot home a puck left by Sophia Shaver as she fell across the crease.
“Going in to tonight, we knew we could put the puck to the net and today we wanted to put a little more quality in to our shots,” Pankowski said. “Having that first goal go in let everyone just relax and focus on their goals for today.”
Senior captain Sydney McKibbon extended the Badgers’ lead midway through the third with a gorgeous lifted back-hander that went bar down and in the net. It was a sweet move from McKibbon, who beat a defender and softly put the puck up and over Boissonnault’s shoulder.
The Badgers return to the ice next Saturday and Sunday against rival Minnesota. It’s a date no-doubt circled on both team’s calendars.
“For the last decade we’ve had great games against each other,” Johnson said. “Saturday and Sunday I’m sure we’ll see two more.”
Saturday’s game is at 3:30 p.m. and Sunday’s 2 p.m. contest will be televised on Fox Sports Wisconsin/Fox Sports North.