MADISON—The Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team is intent on winning a national championship this season and made an emphatic statement for its case Sunday afternoon in front of a sold-out audience and televised crowd at LaBahn Arena, taking down rival No. 2 Minnesota 8-2.
“There’s losing hockey games and there’s getting your butt kicked and that’s exactly what happened tonight,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said.
After a disappointing 2-0 loss on Saturday, their first scoreless game all season, the Badgers came roaring back on Sunday to split the weekend series.
“It was good growth from yesterday,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said. “Yesterday we didn’t play poorly, but if we’re going to beat the quality opponents that we run up against, we have to be able to push ourselves through that and figure out how to win.”
Sarah Nurse tallied her second career hat trick, scoring three goals in just 22 minutes of game play. It was the first time in program history that a Badger earned a hat trick against the Gophers.
The deluge of goals was an impressive and confidence-boosting response from the Badgers, who have, at times, struggled with putting the puck in the back of the net.
“We came out today and really showed how good of a team we are and I think that we have even another gear to kick it in,” Nurse said. “Coming and getting this statement win today was huge for us.”
Nurse admitted she thought the Badgers played a bit timid in the opening periods of Saturday’s game. The game plan was to hit the ice flying on Sunday and it proved an effective one. Nurse opened the scoring just three minutes in to the game. The Gophers tied the game a few minutes later, but goals from Sydney McKibbon and Baylee Wellhausen gave the Badgers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
McKibbon scored when Nurse took a shot that was blocked and it deflected on to her stick for an easy goal.
Wellhausen showcased her speed when she stripped a Gopher of the puck in the neutral zone and raced in toward the net to make it 3-1.
Nurse added her second goal when she intercepted a pass and took it in alone, beating a defender and the goalie to make it 4-1 while drawing a penalty.
Minnesota scored a power-play goal near the end of the first to close the gap to 4-2, but that was as close as it would get. The Gophers hoped to change momentum heading into the second period, but a bizarre on-ice issue led to an extra 10-minute delay.
Once the ice crew was able to remove a drill bit piece from the goalpost peg hole, play resumed and Nurse completed her hat trick before two minutes had ticked off. The play was set up by a long, cross-ice pass from Maddie Rolfes that Presley Norby redirected to Nurse, who deked the goalie and buried the puck.
Wellhausen scored her second of the day thanks to a gorgeous play from Abby Roque. Skating across the goal, Roque started to turn back and passed the puck behind her back to Wellhausen, who had a clear path to the net.
Minnesota switched goalies between the second and the third period and Alexis Mauermann took advantage of the new netminder’s shorter stature to place a top-shelf goal to make it 7-2.
Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark completed the Badgers’ rout with a give-and-go play that Pankowski sniped into the corner for the final goal of the game.
Sunday’s performance from the Badgers was unprecedented.
It was the most goals the Badgers have scored all season and the most goals they've ever scored against a ranked opponent. It was also the most goals they’ve ever scored against the Gophers and the widest margin of victory against them.
The game redrew a lot of lines in the Minnesota record book, as well.
The eight goals were the most given up by a Gophers team since Nov. 7, 1999. That was 670 games ago, before women’s hockey became an NCAA-sanctioned sport. It was also before any players on either of the rosters entered first grade.
The win is a vehement statement from the Badgers that they are the top team in the country and deserve to remain so.
Wisconsin returns to action on Friday and Saturday at Ohio State before starting winter break. The Badgers will resume the second half on Jan. 6, 2017, at Lindenwood.