MADISON — The Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team advanced to the WCHA Final Faceoff tournament next weekend in Minnesota with a 6-0 win over Minnesota State-Mankato. The Badgers swept the Mavericks in a best-two-of-three series.
On Saturday, the very best of the Badgers was on display as their world-class top line scored all six of Wisconsin’s goals. Sarah Nurse tallied a hat trick before taking a hit late in the third period. She took a stick to the head and spent a few minutes on the ice before being helped to the locker room. The sold out crowd of 2,273 Badger fans were silent as they waited to see how Nurse would fare.
Coach Mark Johnson was optimistic after the game, but the Badger will need to wait and see how she fares as the week advances.
With two clean sheets this weekend, Ann-Renée Desbiens now has 53 career shutouts and 15 on the year.
Johnson wasn’t sure exactly what had changed for the top line heading into this game, but said that it’s always in the team’s best interest when the best players are playing at their best.
Nurse joined Emily Clark and Annie Pankowski on Wisconsin’s top line a few weeks ago and the results have been very good. At the time, Johnson said the players had been asking to play together and he finally gave it a shot.
“When they get open and (get) a little bit of space, they’re very dangerous,” he said.
Emily Clark said one of the biggest differences in this game was learning from their mistakes on Friday.
“Today we realized we had a bit more time than we thought and just tried to focus on making plays,” she said. “The three of us have a lot of chemistry off the ice and that translates on the ice. We joke that whenever we have the puck, we think where we would be, if we were the other players, and we all think alike, so it’s easy to play with.”
One reason the Badgers have been so successful this season is their depth. With three lines that score regularly and a fourth line that can give them relief, it’s difficult for teams to match up with them. But regardless of how well the other lines are playing, if Clark, Pankowski and Nurse are at the top of their game, there are few teams in the country that have a hope to contain them.
“I think that when you get the opportunity to play with players like Emily and Sarah it makes it a lot easier to do your job. You know what they’re going to do and you know where they’re going to be. The three of us just see the ice in a very similar way. It makes it a lot of fun,” said Pankowski.
Clark helped the Badgers pick up right where they left off on Friday night, scoring just 32 seconds into the game. Annie Pankowski and Sarah Nurse had the assists, but the goal was about the individual effort of Clark as she danced around the defense and took the puck in on Mankato goalie Chloe Crosby with a drag before pulling it back and putting it around her on the far post.
Nurse doubled the lead with just more than five minutes left in the first on an easy tip-in from a pass by Maddie Rowe.
She scored her second of the game just minutes into the second period and on the power play. Jenny Ryan teed up a hard shot from the point and Nurse redirected it into the net to make it 3-0 Badgers.
Clark got back in on the action a few minutes later, showing off not only some more fancy puck-handling, but a snipe of a shot as she placed one over the shoulder of Crosby from the far circle to give Wisconsin the 4-0 lead.
Nurse earned a hat trick midway through the second period with another power play goal that put Wisconsin up 5-0. She took a cross-ice pass from Pankowski in the near circle and easily wristed it into the back of the net. It’s her third hat trick of the season and the third of her career.
Pankowski finally netted one of her own with about five minutes to go in the game. She carried the puck in and was falling to the ground across the crease, but kept moving her stick and eventually put the puck in the net.
The Badger continued their second-half man-advantage surge. After going 8-for-65 on the man advantage in the first half, the Badgers have scored 19 power play goals on 49 opportunities and have improved to 22.58%, good for third in country.
Pankowski ended the day with a goal and four assists. All combined, Pankowski, Nurse and Clark combined for six goals and seven assists.
Wisconsin now heads to Minneapolis for the WCHA conference tournament. The Badgers will play the lowest remaining seed, to be determined on Sunday. As the top seed, Wisconsin will play at 2 pm on Saturday, March 4. The winners of Saturday’s semi-final game will advance to the tournament championship game on Sunday, March 5. The winner of the tournament earns an auto-bid into the NCAA tournament.