Wisconsin extended its win streak to four with a win over Minnesota-Duluth Saturday afternoon at LaBahn Arena.
With the full roster on the ice at home for the first time in two months and a large and vocal crowd supporting them, the Badgers looked to have fully knocked off the holiday rust. With just four more weekends (including this one) before post-season play, it had to do Wisconsin good to be firing on all cylinders and truly put the North Dakota series of two weeks ago behind.
"Each game, we're finding ways to win, we're finding ways to get things done," Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said. "Especially at this time in the season, any time you can get a win, it goes a long way. Our league is very competitive top to bottom. There are no easy nights. You have to play hard for 60 minutes. You have to play smart for 60 minutes. And then you have to capitalize on opportunities.
"Hopefully it continues as games become a lot more challenging, a lot more difficult with only six, seven, eight games to go."
The physical game challenged Wisconsin at times, but the Badgers were able to hold to their game plan and keep the Bulldogs in check. The first period was well-matched, with the Badgers putting 10 shots on net and the Bulldogs getting eight. But in the second period, the Badgers were able to focus their offense and pull away from UMD, outshooting the Bulldoogs 19-6 in the period.
Wisconsin's special teams have been a key part of its success this season. UW ranks second in the nation on power play (27.1 percent) and third in penalty kill (92.6 percent).
"The power play is about chemistry and personnel and we have to create opportunities based on what the other team is going on penalty kill," said Johnson. "It comes down to execution... If the kids are able to execute and create scoring opportunities, that's what you're looking for."
Duluth made it interesting, scoring late in the third period and heading to the power play to end the game, but it was never able to organize an attack.
With Saturday's appearance, senior goalie Alex Rigsby tied Jackie MacMillan for first on the all-time Wisconsin list of games played with 121.
Taking the ice for just the second time after missing seven weeks due to a knee injury, Rigsby said she had no trepidation in facing Duluth, whom she got injured against.
"The incident, when it happened, was a freak accident," Rigsby said. "I didn't get run or anything like that, so it's not like I was afraid to go out there today and get run. I was excited to play today, too, because it's always a great series. Duluth comes out and they compete, and I think our team did a great job competing, as well."
Rigsby was also happy to get another appearance under her belt to build her confidence.
"I can honestly say I felt a lot better today than I did in my first start last weekend," she said. "I was a lot more comfortable and it felt good. You know, it's hard coming back."
Junior Blayre Turnbull opened the scoring with a power-play goal about seven minutes into the game. The Badgers had been controlling the zone and the puck, and the shots on goal in the opening frame made the game seem closer than it was.
Freshman Sarah Nurse showed why she's going to be a powerhouse for Wisconsin for years to come on the Badgers' second goal. As she held the puck and drifted to the right of the Duluth goal, she drew two defenders and the attention of UMD goalie Kayla Black. Despite that attention, Nurse was able to feed the puck to the trailing sophomore Rachel Jones, who then had a completely empty net to score on. It was the kind of smart play that has you smiling about the future of the Badger program before the current season is over.
Redshirt junior Brittany Ammerman continued her renewed hot streak after being named WCHA Offensive Player of the Week last week. She scored the Badgers' third goal on a power play she herself drew from Duluth's goalie. The goal was her fourth in three games. She was also credited with an assist on Turnbull's goal, giving her six points over those same three games.
"We're building a lot of good momentum and the whole team has been contributing," Ammerman said. "I think that's a really good thing towards the end of the season."
In addition to that team momentum, Ammerman likes how her personal game is shaping up as the season winds down.
"I like to be hot at the end of the season, I think any player does," she said. "I'm working on keeping that momentum going hopefully through playoffs. I think that's a good start. Blayre's (Turnbull) hot, too. We keep contributing on each other's goals. I think that's a great thing. We enjoy playing together."
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