MINNEAPOLIS — For fifty minutes on Saturday afternoon, Ridder Arena bore a closer resemblance to a shooting gallery than a hockey arena.
Senior Cyndy Kenyon scored four goals, and linemate Sara Bauer provided a goal and four assists, as No. 3 Wisconsin dismantled No. 10 St. Cloud State 9-0 in the first WCHA semifinal to advance to its second straight WCHA Championship Game.
“I’m just very fortunate to be playing with the best player in the country,” said Kenyon, referring to Bauer. “Everyone on the ice pays so much attention to her, and it opens up the ice for me so much.”
St. Cloud State sophomore Laura Fast had an excellent opportunity to score just a minute into the game. She fired the puck twice at Wisconsin freshman Jessie Vetter, but both attempts went directly into the Badger netminder. The game’s first 10 minutes were characterized by back-and-forth play, and both teams had good scoring opportunities. The opening minutes were the afternoon’s only bright spot for St. Cloud.
The Badgers gained control of the game on a brilliant power-play goal by senior Cyndy Kenyon. The power play unit began pinching the St. Cloud penalty killers close together, and as the Badgers cycled the puck around the outside, junior Bobbi-Jo Slusar uncorked a hard slap shot that was redirected in front by Kenyon past Lauri St. Jacques.
“We’re always looking for opportunities like that around the outside for big shots,” said Slusar. “We had our share today.”
After breaking onto the scoreboard, Wisconsin stepped up its play significantly while St. Cloud endured a simultaneous let down. The Huskies appeared to play on their heels for the remainder of the opening frame.
The continued Badger attack proved too much for the Huskies with just under three minutes to play in the first. Slusar unleashed another blistering slap shot, this time from the front of the left faceoff circle. Her laser shot found the back of the net, again beating St. Jacques top shelf.
Just 1:25 later, Wisconsin delivered a devastating blow when freshman Kayla Hagen picked up a rebound directly in front of St. Jacques and quickly slid the puck five hole, giving the Badgers a 3-0 lead. Wisconsin hung all three goals on St. Cloud State in the span of 5:06.
“[Wisconsin] just really picked up the momentum after that first power-play goal they had,” said St. Cloud State coach Jason Lesteberg. “We had a really bad rotation that cost us, and the rest of the game just went downhill from there. They’re like a freight train that just keeps coming at you.”
The blitzkrieg continued as the second period got underway. Meghan Mikkelson ripped a shot from the right faceoff circle that was re-directed by Kenyon, beating St. Jacques top-shelf just 48 seconds into the second to extend the Wisconsin lead to four, and minutes later, a light shot by defenseman Emily Morris was misplayed by St. Jacques directly into the net for the 5-0 lead. By the time St. Jacques was replaced in net by sophomore Kendall Newell, Wisconsin had scored five goals in the span of 8:52.
Newell breathed life into the St. Cloud defense, making a few dramatic saves, but Wisconsin continued pouring it on. Junior Sara Bauer scored nine minutes into the second period with yet another top-shelf goal for Wisconsin, Bauer’s 22nd goal of the season.
“We were much better prepared today than we were the last time,” said Bauer, referring to the Badgers’ 1-0 loss to St. Cloud in early February. “We knew what they were capable of and we knew we couldn’t take them lightly.”
St. Cloud State gained a rare chance with one minute to play in the second, but senior Ashley Stewart fell victim to an excellent backcheck while on the breakaway and failed to even get off a shot. Adding insult to injury, the Badgers stormed right back down the ice, and Erika Lawler scored 11 seconds before the second intermission to give Wisconsin a 7-0 lead.
The exchange was nothing less than a microcosm of St. Cloud’s afternoon.
Kenyon added two goals in the third in completing the hat trick and adding a fourth for the afternoon. Bauer finished the afternoon with a goal and four assists, and Mikkelson finished with two assists. In all, 12 different Badgers appeared on the scoresheet.
“We wanted to use our speed and puck movement to our advantage today,” said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson. “I’m very happy with the team’s effort today, and I’m very proud of what they have accomplished so far.”
Wisconsin even showed off its penalty kill prowess late in the game, killing off 1:34 worth of a St. Cloud State five-on-three power play opportunity in which the Badgers continued to control the puck for the majority of the advantage.
“The last time we played Wisconsin, both Lauri [St. Jacques] and the team in front of her played very well,” said Lesteberg. “This time, neither played especially well.”
St. Cloud State finishes a breakthrough season with an improvement of nine wins over the 2004-05 campaign, but the loss was the team’s worst showing since an 11-1 drubbing at the hands of Minnesota-Duluth in December 2002.
“I’m really proud of my team and especially my class,” said St. Cloud captain Randie Jelinski. “We’ve made a lot of progress. Looking back at freshman year, the transformation is just amazing. We ended on a good note no matter what happened today.”
Wisconsin advances to the WCHA Championship Sunday afternoon at Ridder Arena with its largest margin of victory since an 11-0 victory over Wayne State in October 2004.
“We elevated our play against North Dakota last weekend, and we continued that today,” said Johnson. “We want to keep improving in each round from here on out.”