The No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers (2-0) eased past Lindenwood (0-2) 4-0 Saturday behind strong performances from two players with equally improbable, yet diametrically different, paths to Madison.
On a team full of freshmen, it was perhaps no surprise that forward Claudia Kepler scored her first goal as a Badger. But unlike the rest of the young Wisconsin team, she had tallied a goal in LaBahn Arena before — as a freshman at Ohio State in 2013.
Last September, the Buckeye transfer opted to join the Badgers, even though it meant she would have to sit out the 2016-'17 season. This summer, Kepler would be rewarded for her commitment by being named co-captain despite never having played a game for UW.
Wisconsin goalie Kristen Campbell’s career has been equally unpredictable.
Six months ago, Campbell didn’t even have a college hockey team to play for after North Dakota opted to end its women’s hockey program, citing financial concerns. She elected to transfer to Wisconsin and earned her first shutout of the season Saturday, blanking the Lindenwood attack while making nine saves.
The end result was another comfortable victory for the Badgers, as Presley Norby, Alexis Mauermann and Sam Cogan joined Kepler on the scoresheet, while Wisconsin outshot the opposition 38-9.
The second-ranked Badgers will look to the two transfers to bolster a side without many of the familiar faces of recent seasons.
Shutouts became de rigeur for Badger fans when All-American netminder Ann Renée-Desbiens set a NCAA record for clean sheets, leaving big shoes to fill for Campbell. And while the redshirt sophomore faced 77 shots in five starts for the Fighting Hawks, the Badgers conceded a mere 18 shots combined in the Lindenwood series.
“It’s different,” Campbell said of the shot discrepancy. “Sometimes you might not have shots for five, ten minutes but it’s just about keeping yourself in the game mentally, and I think it’s really important so when you are called upon, you’re ready for the challenge.”
Her cause was boosted by the early goal from Kepler, who latched onto a shot from Abby Roque which hit the post and poked it past Lindenwood goalie Jolene deBruyn to give the Badgers a 1-0 lead four minutes into the game.
“It’s awesome, it’s a great feeling,” Kepler said. “It was a great play by Abby really. I was just in the right place at the right time. She hit it off the crossbar and I just knocked it in after that.”
And while Wisconsin continued to rack up the chances, it didn’t strike again until five minutes into the second period. This time it was Norby, who weaved through the defense and powered a backhand shot into the roof of the Lindenwood net.
Norby’s goal was her second of the series and marks a hot start for the sophomore winger, which head coach Mark Johnson said he hoped to see her build upon.
“Today [Norby] was one of our best players,” Johnson said. “She had a lot of energy, played a lot of minutes, scored a nice goal in the second period. Whether it was killing a penalty or five-on-five she seemed to be around the puck, have the puck and that’s a good sign.”
The Badgers started slower in the third period but rallied in the final minutes to extend their lead. Mauermann converted her first goal of the year off a give-and-go with left winger Sam Cogan. Cogan scored one of her own with 40 seconds left in the game to seal the Wisconsin win.
Johnson had high praise for deBruyne, who held the Badgers to six goals over two games despite facing over 80 shots. But he emphasized that the team will need to continue its high energy play, with a quick turnaround before Wisconsin plays Mercyhurst on Thursday.
“When we’re playing fast, playing upbeat, moving the puck we can be pretty effective,” Johnson said. “It’s just a matter of being consistent for 60 minutes.”
Cameron Lane-Flehinger contributed to this report