MADISON, Wis. — On a Friday night that was supposed to belong to the Wisconsin women’s hockey team, someone forgot to ask Bemidji State not to spoil the party.
Taking the ice as the opponent in the Badgers first-ever game at LaBahn Arena, Beavers forward Kristen Huber scored a historic goal five minutes into the third period that not only broke a scoreless tie, but held up as the final margin in a 1-0 Bemidji State victory.
“It was incredible to score the first goal and I am just speechless right now,” Huber said. “It amazing to play in front all of the people that showed up (a capacity crowd of 2,273), and our team just played amazing tonight.”
Huber’s heroics came by way of miscue from Wisconsin junior Alex Rigsby. After the Badgers goaltender mishandled the puck behind the net, Beavers freshman forward Megan Lushanko eluded Rigsby with a pass, finding Huber in the high slot. All the Bemidji State sophomore was left with was a vacated net to take her place as the first goal-scorer in LaBahn Arena history.
“I told her before the goal, ‘Just hit the net,’ because she had chances before and she (kept) missing it,” said Beavers coach Steve Sertich of Huber’s first goal of the season. “Luckily, she got a great opportunity and put it away.”
From that point, the new rink’s ice tilted toward Beavers goaltender Abby Ryplanski, but the sophomore had the answer for every Badgers’ opportunity, recording the first-ever shutout at the new rink while making 27 saves in the process.
“We struggled last weekend playing St. Cloud, so tonight just feels amazing,” Huber said. “We came out flying, but props to our goaltender because she was incredible tonight.”
It was the third straight game that Wisconsin was blanked by an opponent, a trend starting to wear thin on the normally dynamic Badgers. Rigsby made 22 saves in the loss.
“It’s been sort of ‘Groundhog Day’ right now, and we’ve been saying similar things like that for three games row,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said. “Our kids are getting frustrated, but that’s what we’re trying to address because there is a lot of things we’ve done well.”
The first period saw both teams pressing for offense, with the nerves of trying to become the first-goal scorer in arena history taking their toll. One first was recorded in the stanza, coming by way of a penalty as Beavers freshman forward Kaitlyn Tougas earned the game’s first two-minute minor on a tripping call.
“I think everybody was really working hard trying to get that first goal,” Badgers senior defenseman Saige Pacholok said. “We were a little jittery, but I think the goals will come after we finally get one in the net.”
In the second stanza, the Badgers had numerous chances late, taking several shots on a power play and then later on a four-on-four opportunity. Most of that Wisconsin offense revolved around reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner Brianna Decker, who clanked a shot off the left post, then later set up a point blank tip opportunity for sophomore forward Karley Sylvester.
“Overall I thought we played a great game,” Decker said. “The shots were pretty even, but I think we outplayed them and overall our opportunities were more quality . . . But we’re just not getting our bounces.”
Wisconsin’s final scoring bid came with 40 seconds remaining and the goalie pulled, but once again Ryplanski had the answer, kicking out a doorstep chance for Badgers sophomore forward Katy Josephs.
With the win, Bemidji State (2-3-0, 1-2-0-0) got into the win column for the first time this season in WCHA play. The Beavers will go for their first-ever road sweep in Madison during the rematch on Sunday afternoon.
“Our girls knew they were so lucky to be here and have a chance to play in the first game,” Sertich said. “We were honored to be here, but our kids really came through to get the win.”
Meanwhile, Wisconsin (3-3-1, 1-3-1-1) will be looking achieve the first split in arena history.
“We’re disappointed that we lost the game,” Johnson said. “But in the big picture there is a bright future ahead for our program and for women’s hockey to have an opportunity to play in a facility like this.”