MADISON, Wis. — Heading into Halloween weekend with No. 2 Minnesota on the schedule, the struggling defending national champion Wisconsin women’s hockey team knew they had opportunity to make a statement.
Consider it a statement made, as Wisconsin completed a sweep with a 5-2 victory Sunday.
“I think this team has what it takes to make it to the playoffs and compete for a national championship,” Wisconsin coach Tracy DeKeyser said. “But along the way, we have to keep learning from our mistakes, and I think this team is really good at that.”
Minnesota controlled play in the first period, outshooting Wisconsin 13-5, but Wisconsin scored three goals on those five shots for a 3-2 lead.
Wisconsin opened the scoring on a pretty goal by junior forward Mallory Deluce. On the play, sophomore forward Brooke Ammerman cut in through the Gophers’ defense, but fanned on a shot. Deluce picked up the loose puck and buried it behind sophomore goaltender Alyssa Grogan for her team-leading fourth goal.
“Brooke did all the work and I just followed her in,” Deluce said. “It was a pretty easy goal.”
Minnesota evened the score 3:30 later with a pretty power-play goal. Sophomore defenseman Kelly Seeler fed freshman partner Megan Bozek, who then sent a crisp pass cross-ice to sophomore forward Sarah Erickson. Erickson one-timed the pass through Badgers’ freshman goaltender Becca Ruegsegger’s legs.
“It was an unbelievable play by Megan,” Erickson said. “But that is what we want to do as team, be a productive team on the power play and effective on the penalty kill.”
Senior forward Kelly Blankenship made it 2-1 a few minutes later, burying a perfect feed from behind the net by fellow senior forward Brittany Francis.
However, Wisconsin answered with two goals of their own. First, Ammerman corralled a rebound that bounced off a Gophers’ defender and fired a low backhand shot past Grogan to tie the game at two.
Wisconsin took the lead with just 31 seconds left in the period when junior forward Kelly Nash took a shot from the right faceoff dot that appeared to deflect in off freshman Breann Frykas. However, replay showed the puck hit a Minnesota defender instead, so Nash was credited with the goal.
A fantastic individual play by Ammerman resulted in the only goal in a quiet second period. After junior Geena Prough dug the puck out of the corner, Ammerman cut through a Gophers’ defenseman and sniped a pinpoint backhand across Grogan into the top left corner for a 4-2 Badgers lead.
Wisconsin (5-3-0 overall, 5-3-0-0 in the WCHA) finished off the scoring in the final stanza. On an innocent play, Wisconsin junior Malee Windmeier dumped the puck into the Gophers’ zone from just outside the blue line. However, the puck took a crazy hop on its side just off the faceoff dot and skipped around Grogan, making the score 5-2.
The goal would be all for Grogan, who managed just 10 saves on 15 shots. Junior Jenny Laura finished the game in net for the Gophers, but had to make no saves.
“(Grogan) is tremendous goaltender and we still have a lot of confidence in her,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Tonight just wasn’t her night.”
If there is a silver lining for the Gophers in the loss, it would have to be the fact that Minnesota’s play was vastly improved from Friday. That improved play resulted in a game where they heavily outshot the Badgers, despite the final score.
“I was really happy with how we responded,” Frost said. “What was lacking Friday was our effort, and tonight I thought we competed and played extremely hard. You’re not going see that too often where heavily you outshoot them 40-15 and lose 5-2.”
In order to win a game where they were so heavily outshot, Wisconsin needed great goaltending. For the second straight night Ruegsegger was outstanding, making 38 saves.
“(Becca) was just square to the puck all night and they just couldn’t find holes around her,” DeKeyser said. “We broke down a couple times as a team when Minnesota scored, but Becca’s play was phenomenal.”
The confident Badgers will continue their homestand next week, hosting Robert Morris in a pair of non-conference games. Meanwhile, Minnesota 8-2-0, 6-2-0-0) will look to bounce back next weekend as they continue their road trip at Minnesota State.