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Saturday, May 28, 2022
Jenny Ryan

Jenny Ryan scored twice in the first game against Ohio State. 

Wisconsin, Minnesota renew rivalry in highly anticipated matchup

The No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (10-0-0 WCHA, 16-0-0 overall) are firing on all cylinders, consistently improving in preparation for their biggest bout yet: a home series against No. 3 Minnesota (11-1-0, 15-1-0) this weekend.

Last Saturday, the women’s hockey team turned in perhaps their most impressive performance yet against a tough nonconference foe in Dartmouth (4-1-2 ECAC, 4-4-2 overall). After Dartmouth kept it close Friday, Wisconsin dominated the following day to the tune of a 4-0 victory. It certainly could have been far worse, as Wisconsin posted 63 shots on goal, the sixth-best mark in program history. Junior forward Sarah Nurse, who had two goals in the game, said the major emphasis for the Badgers is getting shots on target.

“We really have an emphasis on putting pucks in the net,” Nurse said. “You’re not going to score if you don’t put pucks in the net, and their goalie played really well all weekend holding us to four goals.”

The defense was also stellar Saturday, permitting only nine shots on goal, helping junior goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens to one of the easier shutouts in her career.

“I think Saturday the team played one of the best games so far this year,” Desbiens said. “We did a really good job of taking care of the puck, not allowing turnovers, and also the players block a lot of shots in front of me, probably more than I do sometimes.”

Wisconsin is the only team allowing less than a goal per game in the country, and also remain at the top of the leaderboard in penalty killing. Senior captain and defenseman Courtney Burke stressed that penalty killing is a major part of their practice and games.

“Every Wednesday and Thursday we work on penalty kill, just where we are going to be and how the other team is going to set up,” Burke said. “We take in pride in having a really good penalty kill. When you kill a penalty, I mean there’s going to be penalties called in a game, so when you can kill one off, especially against good teams, it really helps the momentum.”

One of the biggest keys to the Badgers’ success on both ends of the ice is the play of Burke and junior defender Jenny Ryan. Leaders of the best defense in the NCAA, but also the top two scorers for defenseman nationwide, Burke asserts the pair are playing the way they always have.

“I think we both have been offensive-defenseman our whole lives,” Burke said. “But also in the summer we pushed ourselves and tried to make each other better, and it’s really showing this year.”

After a two-week break from conference play, the Badgers are jumping right back into things with a matchup against archrival Minnesota, which only has one loss to its name so far.

Everyone involved in this series is very excited for the game Friday, especially head coach Mark Johnson.

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“These are weekends that as a coach you’re going to be excited,” Johnson said. “It’s our job to manage their energy and make sure our preparation gives them an opportunity to execute and take care of things that we have to do Friday night. So it’s a fun week. I can’t wait until Friday night. I know there will be a big crowd, and those are the games and the days that are really exciting for everybody, especially when you play them in your barn.”

Minnesota boasts the strongest offense in the country, averaging just over six goals per game. Three of the top-five national leaders in points hail from the Minnesota squad. Defending the Gophers is more about containing them than actually stopping them, but Desbiens has confidence in the team to handle the Minnesota offense.

“We have a balanced team and I know every single line that we have there’s no doubt can play them,” Desbiens said. “So I’m not really worried, they definitely have a good offense we know that, but we also have an awesome defense so I think that’s going to be a fun matchup.”

Minnesota has dominated this series of late, but Wisconsin comes into this matchup as the favorite, and hopes are high for what is sure to be a very exciting weekend.

“These are the weekends that you put all the extra work in the summer, the extra reps in the weight room, the skating,” Johnson said. “These are the fun weekends where you get to go out and showcase yourself against a top opponent.”

The two-game series will take place Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m., both at LaBahn Arena.

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