MADISON—For a Wisconsin team that hasn’t had to fight and claw for too many wins this season, the Badgers’ 3-2 victory at home on Saturday afternoon over North Dakota was a bit of a novel experience, but also one they can learn from.
It’s only going to get tougher for the Badgers as they edge closer to to the postseason as the only team to have been ranked No. 1 this year. Battling out the win on Saturday at the LaBahn Arena gives the team more confidence than any blowout ever could.
It was a physical contest with 16 penalties called between the two teams. Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said the physical component of Saturday’s game was something the Badgers haven’t seen much of thus far.
With the constant stops and starts of special-teams play, it was difficult for either squad to get into a rhythm. As the game went on and became chippier, the Badgers struggled at times to keep their cool. But junior Annie Pankowski said that every time the whistle blows on a call Wisconsin might not agree with, the players just use it as a motivation to get themselves fired up.
After such a close game with so many penalties, senior Jenny Ryan admitted it’ll be difficult to return to the rink for Sunday’s early puck drop with emotions at a “zero.” But she said it was up to the Badgers to be confident in their training and fitness and stay calm regardless of how North Dakota plays.
“I think what we keep reminding each other is just to stick to our game,” Ryan said. “We don’t usually play a more physical game, but we know that we’re strong enough to [do it.] We try not to get stuck on what’s happening behind the whistle.”
Johnson wouldn’t speculate, but did say it will be interesting to see the energy levels of both teams on Sunday after the hard-fought, physical game on Saturday that was sure to have taken a lot out of the skaters.
The Badgers got on the board first when a scrum in front of the net resulted in Sarah Nurse’s shot trickling past North Dakota goalie Lexie Shaw.
Gracen Hirschy tied the game less than four minutes later on a gorgeous combination with Emma Nuutinen, whose pass slid just past the reach of Ann-Renée Desbiens, leaving Hirschy space to slot it home at the far post.
Ryan gave Wisconsin the lead on a power-play goal, the only special-teams goal of the game. She buried one over Shaw’s shoulder from the near circle to make it 2-1 Wisconsin.
Pankowski continued her torrid second-half pace with a breakaway goal to put the Badgers up 3-1. She has 15 goals and 14 assists in the past 10 games.
She picked up the puck around center ice and had nothing but space in front of her. She said her first thought was to keep the North Dakota defender who was chasing her away from the puck and the second was on how to beat Shaw.
The Fighting Hawks closed the gap with less than three minutes to go, but the Badgers were able to hold off their late 6-on-5 push to win the game.
The teams will return to the ice Sunday at noon to close out their regular-season series.