In this weekend’s season opener against the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (1-1-0), the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (1-1-0) were able to split the series following a 3-2 loss in Columbus on Friday by delivering a resounding 5-0 shutout effort this Saturday afternoon.
The Badger defense was slow to start, allowing three goals in the first period Friday night, but was able to recover by delivering five-straight shutout periods against the Buckeyes to finish the series.
Coming into the opening series, expectations could not be higher for the first-ranked Wisconsin Badgers as they looked to defend their 2018-19 national title, an opportunity that they were not given this past season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the slow start, Wisconsin was able to put up a convincing comeback effort, scoring two unanswered goals off of a Daryl Watts wrist shot in the closing minutes of the first period, and a goal coming in the opening seconds of the second period from co-captain Brette Pette. However, the Badgers were unable to capitalize on this effort and went scoreless in the third period, despite a few strong offensive possessions in the closing minutes of the game.
Following the season opener, the Badgers were able to put up an incredibly strong performance, blowing out the Buckeyes 5-0 to take home their first win of the season. Wisconsin came out swinging, putting up two first period goals from Maddi Wheeler and Britta Curl. Although they were unable to convert in the second, the Badgers were able to close out the game and silence the Buckeyes in the third period, with two back-to-back goals coming from Sophie Shirley and Dara Greig.
On the change from the season opener, Wisconsin Head Coach Coach Mark Johnson points to the Badgers being able to come out with early energy and follow up with a sustained and clean effort on defense, not allowing the Buckeyes to take advantage of any scoring opportunities.
"I think certainly the first period the way we started helped us to score first, we came out with a lot more energy than we did [Friday],” Johnson said postgame Saturday. “You know, the first period we were on our heels quite a bit but we watched some tape this morning and had a good first 20 minutes … Overall I was happy, certainly our goaltender played very well today and really earned a shutout."
Despite early defensive troubles, the Badgers should feel optimistic coming away from this series. Graduate transfer and goalie Kennedy Blair was able to put up 63 saves on the weekend including a dominant shutout performance in game two, but much of the credit is due to Wisconsin’s ability to apply sustained offensive pressure on the Buckeyes.
On Wisconsin’s defensive turnaround, Blair gave much of the credit to the Badgers’ offensive efforts.
“I think it all came from the offense and defense really helping me in the front,” Blair said. “I think they played really well on the defensive zone and the offense as well. So I think I give it to them but it feels really good to get a shutout in my first win as a Badger.”
Indeed the Badger offense was far more successful in maintaining pressure. After being outshot 37-23 in the series opener, the Badgers were able to reverse this margin outshooting the Buckeyes 30-28 on Saturday.
The Badgers will look to continue their run against the No. 3 Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-1-0) in Minneapolis.