MADISON -- In their final home game of the regular season the Wisconsin women's hockey team showed the sold-out crowd some Valentine's Day love on Sunday, gifting them with the program's fifth regular season conference title with an 8-1 win over Minnesota State.
It's the fifth time the Badgers have won the regular season crown and the first since 2012.
"It’s amazing, said sophomore Emily Clark. "It was an emotional weekend for everyone. To be able to do it on home ice in front of a sellout crowd and for the seniors, that was pretty special."
Coach Mark Johnson said he told his team to be especially proud of this win since it's the culmination of a full season of work.
"It’s a tough trophy – maybe the toughest trophy to win in women’s hockey because it takes the longest to get there and you have to be consistent and you don’t get many nights off," he said.
In a few years the players probably won't remember who scored or how many minutes they played, Johnson said, but they'll always remember they were a championship team.
Credit: Nicole Haase
"This is a whole season. This is six months we’ve worked for this. We’ve worked our butts off all season and this is the reward for us," said senior captain Courtney Burke.
The team honored their eight seniors prior to puck-drop - Burke, Jorie Walters, Katy Harding, Molly Doner, Rachel Jones, Erika Sowchuk, Kim Drake and Megan Miller.
Burke acknowledged that the emotions of that ceremony carried over into the first period of play and contributed to the team having a slow start. Despite that she started the scoring and put the exclamation mark on a stellar career with a first-period goal -- her 100th career point.
She's just the third Badger defenseman to join the Century Club and she did it on senior day with her parents in attendance. She added four assists on the day, making it a career-high five-point game.
The Mavericks tied the game at the beginning of the second when they capitalized on the fourth power play the Badgers gave them.
Clark broke the stalemate as the period wound down with a power play tally of her own. The Badgers had been peppering Quade, who was unable to cover up the puck cleanly for much of the game. The puck squirted out to the right of the net and Clark shot it back from almost even with the goal line. It ricocheted off Quade and into the net to make it 2-1.
Credit Minnesota State with keeping the game close - it was 2-1 through the first two periods. But the Badgers are older, more potent and more experienced and they blew the game open in the third period, scoring three goals 1:28 on their way to a six-goal third period.
It was a scoring bonanza as sophomore Annie Pankowski had a loose puck find her stick just outside the crease. Clark added a second goal on a delayed penalty just 41 seconds later, and junior Sarah Nurse completed a trifecta of goals in 1:28 when she capitalized on the ensuing penalty. Pankowski's assist on the Nurse goal was her 50th point this season. That last Badger to tally 50 points in a single season was Brianna Decker in 2012-13.
But the Badgers weren't done. McKibbon had her third of the weekend after having not scored in the previous 20 games, sophomore Baylee Wellhausen added her second of the weekend and Sowchuk added her second of the weekend to close out the scoring and give Wisconsin the win.
Wisconsin set a new program record with the 31 shots they put on the Mankato goal in the third period. It was the eighth time this season Wisconsin had 50 or more shots on goal in a game.
Though the regular-season crown is a good achievement, it's only the first in a long line of things the Badgers would like to accomplish this season.
Credit: Nicole Haase
They'll look to keep the momentum going as they close out the regular season in Minneapolis next weekend.
"The regular season is still not over. We’ve got two of the toughest game of the season. After this – we’re happy we won, but I think we need to focus in on Minnesota and finishing off the season strong," said Burke.
But clinching the championship and doing so with a decisive and explosive third period will help the Badgers carry energy into Ridder Arena to face off against the rival Gophers.
"Getting that offensive pressure there at the end, that definitely helps with our confidence going into next weekend," said Clark.