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Wisconsin women’s hockey: Badgers set new NCAA attendance record, sweep St. Cloud State

Fill the Bowl 2017 sold out the Kohl Center.

Emily Clark celebrates her fourth goal of the weekend Saturday during the women’s hockey Fill the Bowl event.
Nicole Haase

MADISON —The Wisconsin women’s hockey team set a new NCAA record Saturday afternoon when it played in front of 15,359 fans for a sold-out Fill the Bowl game at the Kohl Center.

The Badgers broke their previous record of 13,573, which was set in 2014.

In addition to the attendance record and collecting more than 4,000 pounds of food for local shelters, Wisconsin earned a 2-0 win and weekend conference sweep of St. Cloud State.

Nicole Haase

UW peppered the net with 61 shots on goal and 99 shots attempted, but SCSU’s Janine Alder played an outstanding game in goal to keep the game in check.

Junior Emily Clark scored her fourth goal of the weekend to give the Badgers the lead just 47 seconds into the second period with a power-play tally.

Clark ended the weekend with four goals and three assists. Annie Pankowski, who had one of the helpers on this goal, finished with three goals and three assists.

Wisconsin, whice has struggled with the extra attacker this season, had just nine power-play goals coming into this series, but managed four man-advantage goals this weekend.

Junior Baylee Wellhausen gave the Badgers a two-goal cushion two minutes into the final frame and that’s when head coach Mark Johnson said he felt like he could breath a little easier.

It was a bit of redemption for the Badgers, who played a lackluster game the last time they hosted a Fill the Bowl event in 2014. They lost to Minnesota 4-0 and the seniors who remember playing in that game were determined not to let spectacle overwhelm the game itself.

Johnson told the team in the pre-game meeting that this was a game like any other, but captain Sydney McKibbon said that attempt to calm nerves was only moderately successful.

Goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens, who engages with the crowd at games in the LaBahn Arena regularly, was especially keen on being a part of Fill the Bowl.

“It was definitely a nice experience,” she said. “The fans are amazing and one more time they just showed everybody how awesome they are. I wish any women’s hockey player could get a chance to play in front of a crowd like that.”

Though the players all try to soak up the atmosphere in pre-game, Clark said it’s almost impossible to the tune out a crowd as loud as the one they played in front of Saturday night.

“It’s unreal,” she said. “It’s awesome for women’s hockey. It’s awesome for us. It just shows how much pride Madison has in their sports teams and it’s pretty cool to be a part of it.”

Even with all the big-time games Johnson has played and coached in, he said he wished he could freeze time during the national anthem to just preserve the atmosphere and feeling of support for women’s hockey.

Despite the relatively low score on Saturday, the Badgers have scored 36 goals over their last six games and are the only team in the country averaging more than four goals a game in team offense. They are also the only team averaging less than a single goal allowed per game; their team defense is 0.91 goals per game allowed.

Desbiens herself continues to put up gaudy numbers. This was her 10th shutout this season and 48th for her career. She’s the only goalie in the country with a goals against average below one; she’s at 0.6636 and leads the nation with her .961 save percentage.

The Badgers, who haven't been home for more than four consecutive games all season, will host the second of three series in a row next weekend against No. 7 North Dakota. Saturday’s game is at 1:07 p.m., and Sunday’s puck drop is set for 2:07 p.m.