After an easy sweep of Ohio State last weekend, the No. 2 Badgers (2-0 WCHA, 5-0 overall) travel to St. Cloud State (0-2, 2-2), where they will look to continue their conference dominance early in the season.
The early-season road trip will present different challenges for the team though, according to junior forward Sarah Nurse.
“Whenever we are on a road trip, it’s a different atmosphere,” Nurse said. “We don’t have our fans obviously, who help us a lot, so we just have to get everything down again so I think that’s the big difference.”
St. Cloud State started the season strong with a sweep of Merrimack, scoring a combined 12 goals over two games. But last weekend they simply had no answer for Minnesota, losing to the Golden Gophers 7-0 and 11-0. St. Cloud State is expected to be one of the weaker teams in the strong WCHA this year, so the Badgers should have another easier series to prepare for when the schedule strengthens down the road.
However, the team isn’t going to be taking this series lightly at all.
“We all know they got killed last weekend, but we are going to ignore that and just go into the first period and dominate and play our game,” junior defender Jenny Ryan said. “You never really know what is going to happen, so we are just going to try to focus on our game and not theirs.”
No player has emerged as a main offensive threat for the Huskies, as only one player has more than one goal so far in defender Lexi Slattery, who leads the team with two goals and four assists.
Opponent power plays have been a weakness for St. Cloud State this year, as it has allowed goals on 10-of-14 opponent opportunities. The Badgers, who have scored on 33 percent of their own power plays, could look to take advantage of this during this weekend’s series.
“We’ve been working on special teams this week and with the bigger ice surface we will definitely [be] trying to take advantage of that,” sophomore Emily Clark said.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, has been stellar defensively, allowing only two goals through four games, and have only allowed one goal in 14 opponent power plays.
Ryan believes the experience Wisconsin has defensively is why it has been so strong to start the year.
“We only have one freshman on defense so we have all been playing together for a lot of years, so we all kind of know what the others are doing,” Ryan said. “And we’ve got [Ann-Renée Desbiens] back there, which is a big part of our defense because we are all really comfortable with her.”
Wisconsin has been equally dominant on the offensive end, as it has already scored 28 goals in its first four games. The Badgers’ stars are once again earning national recognition, as sophomore Annie Pankowski is tied for the leading scorer in the country, and last week Clark was named WCHA Co-Offensive Player of the Week.
Clark attributes her early success to her teammates on the first line and also the experience she has gained from last year.
“I think my line is working really well and has great chemistry, and I think just having a year under my belt has helped a lot going into this year,” Clark said.
But the Badgers have also shown they are a deep team as well, as every player on the roster has already registered a point. Wisconsin’s second line has been as deadly as the first, led by juniors Sydney McKibbon and Nurse, who are tied with Clark for second on the team in points.
“I think we have been moving the puck really well,” Nurse said. “Me and Syd have played together for a few years, and adding Sam [Cogan] to that, she is a good complement and has been doing really well for us.”
That combination of top-level talent and strong depth is not easily achieved, and should prove to be a deadly combination this season for Wisconsin.
“Our depth is really important. A lot of teams might have one or two really good lines, but we have four that can be put into any situation for us,” Nurse said.
The Badgers are the heavy favorites in this series, and history backs up that claim. Wisconsin has lost to the Huskies just once this decade, and has a strong history of knocking SCSU out of the WCHA Playoffs, beating it in the first round twice in the past 5 years.
Nevertheless, going on the road is never easy and the Badgers will need to avoid any slipups in order to stay on top of the conference standings.
Both Friday’s and Saturday’s games are scheduled to start at 3 p.m.