MADISON -- With a decisive 6-0 victory over Mercyhurst in the NCAA quarterfinal Saturday night at LaBahn Arena, Wisconsin advances to the ninth Frozen Four in program history. The Badgers will face conference rival Minnesota for the sixth time this season.
The game, which sold out 24 hours after tickets went on sale early this week, was the Badgers' 12th sellout of the season. It was loud in LaBahn before the puck ever dropped, and junior Sarah Nurse said having that kind of support made a powerful difference for the team.
"No matter what’s going on in the game... the crowd is always so loud and I think that’s such an intimidating factor," she said.
Coach Mark Johnson preaches to his team that tomorrow is never guaranteed in the post-season, so every win gives the team at least one more chance.
"We look forward to one more game and one more opportunity. It should be fun. It’s always good to get to the Frozen Four," he said. "Overall, we did what we needed to do. We created the energy we needed to create in the first period by getting a couple of goals and got to the finish line in pretty good shape."
Goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens also added to her impressive season, tallying her 21st shutout. She has yet to allow a goal in the postseason.
The game had a choppy start, however, as each team tried to feel out the unfamiliar opponent. Give the Lakers credit for doing a great job intercepting passes in the neutral zone and not allowing the Badgers easy entry into their offensive zone.
"We certainly wanted to clog up the neutral zone. Sometimes great players get free and make plays and they were able to do that," Mercyhurst coach Michael Sisti said.
Freshman Sam Cogan opened the scoring midway through the first. After a flurry in front of the net, Cogan tipped in a shot from sophomore Annie Pankowski to get the Badgers on the board.
Junior Jenny Ryan made it 2-0 with a gorgeous slapshot from past the far circle. Mercyhurse goalie Sara McConnell never saw the puck and it ricocheted out of the net as fast as it went in.
The Badgers set a quicker pace in the second period. After putting 12 shots on goal in the first, they doubled that total before midway through the second.
Juniors Sarah Nurse and Sydney McKibbon, who've been playing together since their childhood in Ontario, showed some of their chemistry with a highlight-reel. short-handed goal midway through the second period. McKibbon carried the puck along the near boards and laid the puck off to Nurse. Nurse later said she saw McKibbon heading for the net, so she never thought to shoot. She hit McKibbon, whose toe drag tricked McConnell, leaving her with an empty net to make it 3-0.
A few minutes later, sophomore Emily Clark made it 4-0 and it was Nurse with the setup, again. She held the puck in the right circle and put a perfect pass on the tape as Clark streaked down the ice with two defenders on her heels. Clark backhanded it over McConnell's outstretched pads and the rout was on.
Nurse got on the board herself in the third period with a power-play goal. Pankowski had the puck on the near boards just in front of the blue line and slid it to Burke, who one-timed it. The rebound fell to Nurse on the far post and it was 5-0 Badgers.
Sophomore Baylee Wellhausen capped the scoring with just a few minutes left in the game with some nifty footwork and a soft little wrister from the far circle to make it 6-0 Wisconsin.
This will mark the third straight year that Wisconsin will face Minnesota in the national semifinal. The Gophers have come out on top the past two seasons, but in this season's series, the Badgers own a 3-2 advantage. Each team swept their home series and Wisconsin topped Minnesota last week in Minneapolis to win the WCHA Final Faceoff tournament.
Nurse said it was impossible not have thought a little ahead about the possibility of playing rival Minnesota, but that the Badgers can't spend too much time dwelling on it.
"As we go into this week of practice, we really have to worry about our own game and not worry too much about what they’re doing. We’ve been a successful team all year and I think if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll have a lot of success next week."
The Frozen Four is being hosted by the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. Wisconsin and Minnesota will play at 6 p.m. CT. Games will be available for viewing on a free stream from NCAA.com.