MADISON — A sold-out crowd of 2,273 fans were treated to a 5-0 Wisconsin win over Minnesota State Friday night at LaBahn Arena.
Thirteen Badgers tallied points in a total team effort that was especially impressive considering they were without top-line defenseman senior Mellissa Channell, who left the second game of the North Dakota series last weekend.
“It’s really exciting when it doesn’t matter who’s on the ice and we’re always a scoring threat,” junior Annie Pankowski said.
Channell and senior captain Jenny Ryan have been a defensive pair since their freshman season, so her absence caused a shake-up among the defensive pairings.
In a perfect world, conventional wisdom would say never to break up the top pair that is so good together. But Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson didn’t have a choice and it turned out well for him.
Two freshmen defensemen, Mekenzie Steffen and Maddie Rowe, scored goals for the Badgers. The game was also a showcase of the depth and resiliency of the Badgers.
“We obviously miss Channell a lot, but a lot of players really proved they can step in and play in big situations and our depth as a team,” Steffen said.
Missing a top defender can affect the chemistry of the whole team, but Pankowski said the shuffled defensive lines didn’t concern the forwards.
“It’s hard when you lose a player like Channell, but I think that our [defensive] corps has responded great,” Pankowski said. “Even in practice, they’re really hard to play against and they make our lives hard as forwards. So as a forward, I didn’t think twice about that rotation back there because I had all the confidence in them.”
The Badgers were 2-for-6 on the power play, just the third time this season they’ve scored more than one power-play goal in a game. After starting the season scoring just eight power-play goals in the first 20 games, Wisconsin has scored eight in the past six.
Johnson isn’t overly concerned about the overall power-play percentages because he knows they don’t tell the whole story.
“Some power plays are a little bit more crucial than others, as I look at them,” he said. “You might be winning three or four nothing and you might put different people out there. Your percentage might go down, but that’s ok. When you need them and the opportunity is there, that’s when you want to put them in the net.”
Despite Johnson’s positive attitude, Pankowski said the team has been focused on improving the power play, setting a second-half goal of 20 percent for themselves. So far, the Badgers are exceeding it, having scored nine goals in 23 chances for a 39 percent power play, which leads the country in that time.
The Badgers forced Minnesota State goalie Brianna Quade to make a season-high 42 saves and the Mavericks registered a season-high 23 blocks as a team.
Steffen put the Badgers on the board first with five minutes to go in the first period to extend the power-play goals streak to six games. Wisconsin had been peppering Quade from the point and scrambling after rebounds in front of the net. Junior Maddie Rolfes picked up a loose puck between the circles and fed it out to Steffen who was nearly even with the goal line on the far side. She sniped a goal from the sharp angle to give Wisconsin the 1-0.
Pankowski extended her scoring streak to nine games with a second-period goal and now has 20 points in the Badgers’ last nine games. She was without a goal through the first nine games; since then, she’s scored 17 goals and tallied nine assists.
Junior Lauren Williams poked the puck away from Minnesota State at the Wisconsin blue line and junior Emily Clark slid it forward for Pankowski, who had started to break out. Clark and junior Baylee Wellhausen went with her, but it was all Pankowski, who dangled a bit at the far circle before sniping the goal far post to put Wisconsin up 2-0.
Rowe put Wisconsin up 3-0 when a long shot from sophomore Sophia Shaver bounced out to her as she was crashing the net and banged off her skate and in.
Pankowski added to her numbers with a shorthanded goal in the third. After a loose puck was the result of a defensive zone face-off, Gardner picked it up and hit Pankowski in stride as she streaked up the far boards near mid-ice. From there, it was all the speed and talent of Pankowski, who out-skated her defender and popped the top of the net with a backhander to make it 4-0 Badgers.
Freshman Alexis Mauermann closed out the scoring with a tip-in goal with less than two minutes to go. Sophomore Sam Cogan fed her from the near corner and Mauermann timed it perfectly.
The teams return to the ice on Saturday to close out their season series. Puck drop is at 3 p.m.