Playing in its first-ever NCAA tournament game, Robert Morris University took the ice against No. 1 Wisconsin and for the first 13 minutes managed to play toe-to-toe with the top-ranked team in the country.
Then junior forward Annie Pankowski forced a turnover, senior forward Sarah Nurse scored, and the Badgers (22-2-4 WCHA, 32-2-4 overall) proceeded to dominate the next 27 minutes of play en route to a 7-0 win over the Colonials (15-3-2 CHA, 24-5-6 overall) in the quarterfinal game.
“The first eight or ten minutes of the game was sort of a feeling out process,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “After the first 20 minutes, I think the players relaxed somewhat … starting with the first shift of the second period we created some offensive zone time and some puck possession.”
The Badgers came out of the gate strong and less than two minutes into the game freshman defenseman Mekenzie Steffen followed up her own wraparound try to put Wisconsin up 1-0.
Accompanied by a loud contingent of fans, Robert Morris responded well and forced senior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens to make several contested saves. With seven minutes left in the period, the Colonials had eight shots to the Badgers seven and were threatening to tie the game.
Then Pankowski stole the puck at her own blue line and brought it down the ice before dishing to Nurse, who beat Colonials goaltender Jessica Dodds far-side to double the score. From that point until the end of the second period, Wisconsin outshot Robert Morris 32-2, as the Colonials seemed to have no answer for the Badgers’ speed and pressure.
“They had just a phenomenal transition game. They were moving that puck up quick, it was making life very difficult to change,” Robert Morris coach Paul Colontino said. “We constantly had people stuck out there on the ice. They wore us out and took a lot of energy out of us.”
A pair of juniors, forward Baylee Wellhausen and defenseman Maddie Rolfes, opened the scoring for Wisconsin in the second period. Wellhausen tallied her 15th goal of the year on a rebound from a shot by sophomore forward Sophia Shaver, and just over a minute later Rolfes took a pass from Nurse and one-timed it past Dodds to put the Badgers up 4-0.
Next, it was the top line of Nurse, Pankowski, and junior forward Emily Clark getting involved in the scoring, as Nurse and Pankowski exchanged roles to give the junior her 25th goal of the year. Clark finished off the scoring, with a goal in the final minutes of the second period and another in the third to give Wisconsin its final 7-0 margin.
The win also marked the final home game for a decorated senior class that is advancing to its fourth-straight Frozen Four.
“It was definitely an emotional day but it was so special,” Nurse said. “I think just playing here, you’re never gonna get this experience ever again and so I’ve been so thankful and so grateful to play here so just a huge thank you to all the fans.”
With the win, Wisconsin advances to its tenth Frozen Four and will take on fourth-seeded Boston College on Saturday, March 17 in St. Charles, Mo. With a win there the Badgers will earn a chance to play for the program’s fifth national title.