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Wisconsin women’s hockey: Badgers bury Minnesota-Duluth 8-0, win WCHA regular-season title

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It’s the second straight regular-season WCHA title for Wisconsin.

Nicole Haase

MADISON — The No. 1 Wisconsin women’s hockey team defeated No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth in decisive fashion Sunday afternoon, securing the program’s second straight WCHA regular-season title—the sixth in its history.

After skating to a 1-1 tie and competing in 12 rounds of shootout to decide a winner on Saturday, the Badgers pounded the Bulldogs 8-0, earning senior goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens’s 50th career shutout in 111 career starts.

Coach Mark Johnson said earlier in the week that the bonus of playing No. 2 UMD and No. 5 Minnesota in the final two weeks of the season is that it has his team playing at the highest possible level heading in to the postseason.

After the frustration of Saturday’s tie, Sunday’s victory has the Badgers’ confidence as high as it’s been all season.

“We’re playing two really good teams at the end of the season, so it’s nice to learn a lot about ourselves and know we can do what we just did out there,” Desbiens said.

Johnson tells his players the regular-season trophy is the hardest to win—it takes six months of playing well to earn.

“It was incredible to end senior day with a win like that and to win the league was the icing on the cake,” senior captain Sydney McKibbon said. “We’ve had a pretty special team this year. We’ve still got things we want to accomplish, but we’re definitely excited and this was a good way to go out as seniors.”

Wisconsin was 2-for-3 on the power play. After scoring eight power-play goals through the first 20 games, the Badgers have tallied 15 extra-attacked goals in their 11 games since the winter break, a 41 percent clip.

The Badgers out-shot UMD 48-15, including 40-10 through first two periods. They had 92 shots on goal for the weekend, compared to 37 for the Bulldogs.

On Saturday, the Badgers peppered Minnesota-Duluth goalie Maddie Rooney with nearly 100 shots and many were down close, tight to the net. After that didn’t prove entirely successful, the Badgers seemed to change strategy on Sunday, shooting from further out on the ice and aiming for the top part of Rooney’s net.

The strategy paid off when freshman Abby Roque put the Badgers on the board with a power-play goal with just less than five minutes to go in the first period. At a narrow angle nearly even with the goal mouth, she slotted a puck over Rooney’s shoulder to give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead.

Just minutes later, it was Roque causing problems for the Bulldogs again as she took the puck in close on Rooney. Her initial shot bounced off Rooney’s pads and Baylee Wellhausen was there to put the rebound home.

The goal came as the result of the Badgers winning an offensive-zone face-off. The Badgers had wanted a line change, but the refs waived them off. Instead, the line stayed on and scored just moments later.

Minnesota-Duluth was without four of their regular-roster players for this series, as two players were injured and two were playing with their national teams in Olympic qualification. They had 10 forwards and seven defenders. Saturday’s game was very fast-paced, with both teams pushing tempo up and down the ice to try and gain an advantage. With the Bulldogs’ short bench, that tempo seemed to wear on them Sunday.

The Badgers added to their impressive power-play numbers in the second half of the season.

Maddie Rolfes put the Badgers up 3-0 in the opening minutes of the second period with a nifty backhand from between the circles. Wisconsin showed a lot of patience on its power plays, moving the puck and looking for openings. Rolfes received the puck in the near circle and took the space in front of her toward center ice before beating Rooney on the backhand. It was just her second career goal.

Wellhausen increased the lead to four with her second goal. Roque won a battle on the boards to keep the puck in the zone, then fed it to the middle. Wellhausen initially missed the pass, but Alexis Mauermann was right behind her to put a shot on Rooney. Wellhausen had circled back after the pass and was at the back door to tap in the rebound to make it 4-0.

The fifth goal was all the puck-handling of Annie Pankowski, who carried up the boards, beat a defender and took a hard, long-distance shot that Rooney kicked aside. Emily Clark was crashing the net and easily found the net while the goalie was still down.

Wellhausen tallied her first career hat trick with a tip-in to make it 6-0. Pankowski, Clark and Sarah Nurse combined for a tic-tac-toe goal just 45 seconds into the third that Pankowski effortlessly put on the back door to make it 7-0. She scored again on a re-direct of a long shot from Lauren Williams to make it 8-0.

Wisconsin heads to Minnesota for its final regular-season series next weekend. The Badgers will then host Minnesota State-Mankato for a best-of-three series for the first round of the WCHA payoffs on Feb. 24 and 25 with the third game, if needed, on the 26th.