MADISON, Wis. — Series opening games have not been kind to the Wisconsin womens hockey team this season.
However, Friday afternoon at the Kohl Center, the Badgers found their skating legs early in grabbing a 2-0 lead against fifth ranked Minnesota Duluth, before finally holding off a third period Bulldogs charge for a 3-1 win.
Other than the too many man on the ice call, I thought the girls were very on, focused and very disciplined, Wisconsin coach Tracey DeKeyser said. From our shift length to shooting at the net when it made sense, to controlling the puck and possessing it, I was really impressed with the way we played.
It was an unusually fast start for the Badgers, outshooting a flat-footed Minnesota-Duluth 17-2 in the first period. The aggressive play for Wisconsin was rewarded with three power plays, and the first one Wisconsin capitalized to open the scoring just over a minute in.
Methodically plotting along the edges of the woman advantage, freshman forward Briana Decker and sophomore forward Brooke Ammerman worked the puck to defenseman Saige Pacholok. Pacholok, took her time to pick out a seam in the Bulldogs defense, before ripping a shot just over the blocker side of freshman goaltender Jennifer Harss.
I was going to the right so I shot toward the far side, which is probably the best place to put the puck, Pacholok said. But if we are patient and wait for our opportunities I think that will really help us (with our power play) in the future.
It was more of the same for Wisconsin in the middle period, this time taking a 14-4 advantage in shots. The result of the Badgers strong play was wrap-around goal by Ammerman 8:13 into the period and a two goal lead. On the play, junior defenseman Geena Prough fired a shot to the left side of Harss. Ammerman corralled the rebound, carried behind the net, and buried it around the other side of Harss.
Geena made a great shot that tipped off my stick, but left the goalie really out of position and really over, Ammerman said. So I just picked up the puck and tried to stuff it.
Minnesota-Duluths play got progressively better throughout the game, and in the third they came out on flying. Wisconsins defense held the Bulldogs in check until just over five minutes left in the game, where visitors chipped into the lead.
Minnesota-Duluth goal was set up by junior forward Laura Fridfinnson springing loose along the right side of the Badgers defense as Wisconsin was in the midst of a line change. Senior goaltender Alannah McCready made the save, but the Badgers got caught with too many men on the ice, giving the Bulldogs a crucial power play.
Minnesota-Duluth wasted little time making Wisconsin pay, as freshman forward Audrey Cournoyer set up freshman forward Jessica Wong on the point. Wongs blast cut through a perfect Gina Dodge screen and through McCready to make it 2-1.
I just saw that little opening with Gina in front their screening, Wong said. Luckily it went in.
The Bulldogs brought a ton of pressure against the Badgers in the final five minutes, but it was Wisconsin sophomore Carolyne Prevost who would finish off the game, scoring an empty net goal with 4.7 seconds left.
In the third I thought we had them, but we just couldnt get that extra goal, Wong said.
For Minnesota-Duluth (12-7-0, 8-5-0 WCHA), it was a case of bringing their best hockey a little too late, and fighting through some tough penalty calls against.
We were out-matched in the first period for sure, Bulldogs coach Shannon Miller said. The second period was very even and in the third I thought we played the better 20 minutes.
But the biggest bright spot for the Bulldogs was the play of Harss, who made 40 saves, while keeping the game within striking distance.
Shes very strong as freshman, but doesnt play like one, Miller said. She may have early in the season, but she is very solid for us right now.
Meanwhile for seventh ranked Wisconsin (10-5-2, 7-4-0), it was a continuation of their strong play against the better teams in womens hockey. The puzzle for the Badgers now is figuring out how to compete like they did Friday, consistently, and against any opponent they play.
With the win Wisconsin now moves two points behind Minnesota-Duluth in the WCHA. Sunday the two teams will rematch to decide who will likely be in that position heading into the long holiday break.