Wisconsin takes one of two, gears up for rematch with St. Cloud State

It was another wild weekend for Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team, as they hosted St. Cloud State for the last series of the regular season.

The Badgers’ spot in the standings was set, but coming off a loss to Ohio State, the team still had a bad taste in its mouth.

Unfortunately for coach Mark Johnson and his squad, they could not quite shake their struggles in the first matchup Friday night.

Getting the puck to the goaltender was not much of an issue for Wisconsin, but getting it into the net was another story. The Badgers had eight shots on goal before the Huskies could get one, and UW would get 18 in the first period compared to St. Cloud State’s three.

It was that third shot on goal by the Huskies that was the difference maker. The home crowd was stunned after a Wisconsin-dominated first period finished with the Badgers behind on the scoreboard.

The second period was more of the same. Wisconsin sent 22 pucks to the goal, but Huskies’ senior goaltender Julie Friend stopped every one. The Badgers’ own goaltender, sophomore Ann-Renée Desbiens, remained confident and kept a clean sheet for the period as well.

In an effort to mix things up, Johnson made a few changes to his lines for the third period, but the team showed more of the same. After more than 18 scoreless minutes, Johnson took out his goaltender and went with six to attack. Not long after, St. Cloud State poked the puck away and sealed the game with an empty net goal.

Freshman Wisconsin forward Annie Pankowski got one back with 15 seconds left in the game, but it was too little, too late as the Badgers fell 2-1 to the Huskies.

Johnson acknowledged the great performance by Friend following the game.

“That’s the tough thing about our sport,” said Johnson. “Their goaltender was obviously better than all of our shots that we took today. You know, it took us until there was 15 seconds to go in the game to get one.”

“There’s not much you can say,” he continued. “We played a pretty good game, and we didn't get rewarded for a lot of our efforts out there.”

Wisconsin bounced back Sunday with an offensive explosion. The Badgers (19-6-3 WCHA, 24-6-4 overall) put up five goals against St. Cloud State in the season finale.

“It was a great day for us to bounce back from the loss on Friday and the girls played hard for 60 minutes and it showed, especially in the third period not allowing them a shot,” said Wisconsin assistant coach Jackie Friesen.

Friesen took questions since Johnson did not arrive to the game until the third period, as he was coming from the “Miracle on Ice” reunion in Lake Placid.

“We’re pretty happy with that and really happy with the effort and as we move forward into the playoffs, that’s a good way to end,” Friesen said.

Five different Badgers scored against St. Cloud’s backup goalie Katie Fitzgerald, who has appeared in 13 games and has won just twice this season. Wisconsin and St. Cloud will dual again next weekend in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, and after starting goalie Julie Friend’s stellar performance Friday, the Badgers will most likely contend with her in net.

UW sophomore forward Sarah Nurse opened the scoring early, beating Fitzgerald with a top-shelf shot from the slot just three minutes into the game. Then with four minutes to play in the period, senior forward Blayre Turnbull continued her hot streak, scoring her seventh goal in her last seven games.

“With her playing hard, playing a full 60 minutes, it sets the tone with the team. It starts with our leaders and that was great to see that tonight,” Friesen said of Turnbull’s recent play.

Redshirt senior Brittany Ammerman scored off a dish from Turnbull in the second. Pankowski then found twine after a centering pass from freshman Emily Clark, extending the lead to 4-0. Clark then added a goal of her own in the third period, lighting the lamp on a backhand beauty.

Wisconsin’s defense turned in another strong effort, allowing just a total of 10 shots and not giving St. Cloud even one attempt in the final period. The Badgers also killed off two more penalties, a key to their success this year. Desbiens only had to stop 18 shots, but she turned away all of them to earn her 13th shutout of the season.

Wisconsin will now move on to the playoffs and the rematch against St. Cloud State. The Huskies will return to LaBahn Arena next Friday for the first game of the best-of-three series.

“It’s a brand new season, what we just did there, the last regular season game, is completely irrelevant going into this weekend,” Turnbull said. “Friday night we know what to expect, they’re gonna come out, they’re gonna want to win, so we need to top their intensity and get ready to win.”

The Badgers will undoubtedly receive an at-large bid to the tournament, regardless of how well they do in the conference tournament. St. Cloud will need to pull off a couple upsets to win the title and earn an automatic bid.

With the season on the line, the Huskies will certainly play with desperation next weekend. On the other hand, Wisconsin will need to continue to build confidence for an NCAA tournament that it has a legitimate shot at winning. The series begins Friday at 7 p.m.

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