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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Women's Hockey: UW opens home schedule with Ohio State

Following a convincing sweep on the road against Minnesota-Duluth this past weekend, No. 2 Wisconsin (2-0-0 WCHA, 4-0-0 overall) will return to Madison for its home opener against Ohio State (0-0-0, 2-0-0).

The Badgers have come storming out of the gates to start the year, outscoring their opponents 21-4 on their way to winning all four games of a season-opening road trip. Last weekend’s series was especially impressive for UW, as the Badgers earned a sweep in Duluth for just the third time in school history.

With five players making their season debuts for Wisconsin against the Bulldogs, it seemed reasonable to expect the Badgers to be a little vulnerable while these players tried to shake off some rust. However, Wisconsin had no trouble against Minnesota-Duluth, winning by scores of 4-1 and 6-2.

“I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest with you,” said head coach Mark Johnson. “It’s one of those situations where you look at what we did well this past weekend and try to build on it and try to get ourselves prepared to play well this upcoming weekend.”

Perhaps the most encouraging sign from the Badgers in the early parts of this season has been the success of their offense. While goaltending and defense were areas of strength for Wisconsin last year, the team didn’t have the same level of success when it came to scoring.

The Badgers ranked sixth in the country with 114 goals, but posted a lackluster 8.3 shot percentage. The UW offense has been more efficient so far this season, scoring 21 goals on 179 shots, a shot percentage of 11.7.

The improvement should be taken for what it’s worth with such a small sample size. The offense has been very balanced through four games, with contributions coming from both seasoned veterans and new faces.

Two key contributors in the early stages of the season have been freshman forwards Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark, who have each already been named the WCHA Freshman of the Week.

“For me, personally, it’s been like a family since the first week I’ve been here,” Clark said. “[The older players] have been really awesome with welcoming us to the team.”

Now, the Badgers will try to carry the momentum back to Madison for their series with Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are coming off a sweep of New Hampshire in their first series of the year, with both victories coming by a single goal. Sophomore forward Claudia Kepler scored the go-ahead goal in each game for the Buckeyes, including a game-winner with just 31.1 seconds remaining in regulation in the second game of the series.

For her efforts, Kepler was named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week.

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Wisconsin is riding a six-game winning streak against Ohio State and has won all four of its meetings with the Buckeyes at LaBahn Arena. But with a huge series against top-ranked Minnesota looming, Johnson and his coaching staff are making sure the team stays focused on the task at hand.

“They’re kids. They look at the schedule,” Johnson said. “So the big thing with a season of our length is to try to stay focused on what’s next.”

The series kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. at LaBahn Arena, with the second game to be played Sunday at 3 p.m.

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