MADISON, Wis. — Nearing the halfway point of Friday afternoon’s contest against Minnesota State, top-ranked Wisconsin faced a 1-0 deficit against the last place team in the WCHA.
Even more significant was the fact that the Mavericks, not the Badgers, were controlling the play and threatening to increase their lead.
However, it was at point when Badgers leading scorer Brianna Decker sparked a dramatic turnaround, assisting on a pair of goals to help Wisconsin survive the scare and post a 5-2 victory at the Kohl Center.
“We knew we had to come out hard in the second period and outwork [Minnesota State],” Decker said. “We started moving our feet out there and that’s how we were able to be successful.”
With just under 11 minutes remaining in the middle frame, Decker flew out of the left corner, then spotted senior forward Brooke Ammerman with space in the slot. Ammerman’s rolling puck backhand shot squeezed through Mavericks’ senior goaltender Alli Altman’s legs to tie the game at a goal apiece.
“We really moved the puck well and our line was cycling it well,” Decker said. “We were getting open for each other and that’s how that first play developed.”
Less than two minutes, later Ammerman’s younger sister, Brittany, gave Wisconsin its first lead at 2-1. Taking a drop pass from Badgers’ sophomore forward Madison Packer, Ammerman fired a screened shot underneath Altman’s blocker.
In the final minute of the period, Wisconsin added the decisive goal when Decker’s perfect feed slipped through two Mavericks’ defenders and onto the tape of Brittany Ammerman, who redirected it past Altman.
“At times when she creates opportunities and the puck doesn’t go in for her, [Decker] gets a little bit frustrated,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said. “But today, she held her composure and certainly the goal at the end of the second period was a big one.”
The Badgers (25-2-2, 19-2-2-1 WCHA) scored twice in third period to produce the game’s final margin.
Madison Packer’s power-play marker with just over six minutes remaining was followed up by senior forward Hilary Knight’s 25th goal of season.
Knight’s pulverizing top shelf blast ended the forward’s surprising point drought during the game (she took nine shots) and gave the Badgers’ captain only her second goal in the past eight games.
“I don’t get frustrated when I get a lot of opportunities,” Knight said. “I knew one of them was going to go in eventually.”
Despite the final result, it was Minnesota State that took the play to Wisconsin in the game’s first half. The Mavericks’ impressive effort out of the gate was quickly rewarded when Minnesota State junior forward Lauren Smith struck in the opening two minutes.
On a spectacular individual effort, Smith corralled a Wisconsin rebound at her own blue line and then raced up the ice. Splitting the flatfooted Badgers’ defense, Smith moved in alone on Badgers’ sophomore goaltender Alex Rigsby before tucking home a backhanded deke.
“Lauren plays hard all the time and that’s the one thing I really like about her,” Mavericks’ coach Eric Means said. “She’s just a bulldog who goes, goes and goes and she gave that kind of effort today.”
Two minutes later, Smith had another breakaway chance, but Rigsby got a piece of her high shot.
“If Lauren could have scored on that second breakaway, it would have been huge for us,” Means said. “We knew we weren’t going to get a lot of opportunities tonight against Wisconsin, so we needed to capitalize on that chance.”
Smith continued to taunt the Badgers in middle frame with a pair of chances to tie the score at two. Unfortunately, the Mavericks (7-20-0, 3-20-0-0 WCHA) were only able to manage a second goal when sophomore forward Nicole Germaine beat Rigsby with eight seconds remaining in the game.
The potential WCHA playoff first-round opponents will get a day off to relax before rematching Sunday afternoon.