The top-ranked Wisconsin women’s hockey team (10-0) completed a sweep of No. 2 Ohio State (6-2) this weekend at LaBahn Arena in a rematch of last year’s WCHA Conference Championship.
It was a battle of the unbeatens in Madison, WI, as the two top teams in the nation met with the No. 1 ranking on the line. The Badgers finished on top in both affairs, beating the Buckeyes 3-1 on Saturday and 2-1 on Sunday.
Both teams came out firing for Saturday’s tilt, combining for 25 shots on goal in the first 20 minutes of play. Each team’s goaltender ended with 12 saves in the first period, but Ohio State’s 13 shots on goal saw them take a 1-0 lead heading into the first break.
Head coach Mark Johnson must have delivered a serious intermission speech because Wisconsin took over the rest of the game.
Senior captain Grace Bowlby tied up the game less than two minutes into the second period, skating to the top of the circle to the left of the goal and sending a wrist shot goalward. The puck bounced off Buckeye netminder Andrea Braendl’s outstretched left leg, off Ohio State defenseman Gabby Rosenthal’s skate and into the goal to make it a 1-1 game.
The game remained level for most of the second period — despite the Badgers outshooting the Buckeyes 12-4 over the second period of play — until Casey O’Brien tipped a shot from Keandra Nealey between her legs and into the goal, sending Wisconsin into the lead heading into the final 20 minutes of the game.
The third period was an even affair for the most part as both teams saw opportunities to add another score to their respective columns. Wisconsin goaltender Kennedy Blair and her defense stood stout, though, holding off the Buckeyes to keep the Badgers ahead going into an Ohio State timeout with just over two minutes remaining. Ohio State pulled Braendl from the goal following the timeout in a desperate attempt to tie the game. Seventy-seven seconds later and Daryl Watts found herself with the puck with a free lane to the goal. The fifth-year forward launched a shot from the other side of the centerline, sealing the game with an empty-net goal for the 3-1 win.
Game two was just as hotly contested.
This time, the Badgers got out in front early, using a Nicole LaMantia first-period goal to jump ahead 1-0 midway through the period. LaMantia received the puck from Grace Shirley right off the faceoff and sniped a shot from the point past Braendl’s glove in a move so fast the cameras missed it.
Rosenthal knotted up the affair just under three minutes later to send the game into the second period at a goal apiece.
The second period went by without any scoring, thanks to some stellar stops from both Blair and Braendl.
With both goalies and defenses playing spectacularly, the thought was any penalty could end up giving away a game-winning power-play goal. That thought was right in the front of everybody’s mind when two Ohio State penalties gave the Badgers a golden opportunity with a five-on-three power play.
Wisconsin was unable to capitalize, though, keeping the game tied, 1-1, halfway through the period.
The Wisconsin power play unit has been possibly the only weak spot for the top-ranked Badgers, converting just seven of their 34 opportunities this year (20.6%), good enough for only 11th in the nation.
The game would remain tied throughout the rest of the third, sending the tilt to overtime.
The overtime wouldn’t last long, however, as LaMantia once again found the back of the net to win the game for Wisconsin, extending the Badger win streak to 16 going back to last season.
Coach Johnson talked about sending out LaMantia for the three-on-three overtime period, speaking highly of the senior defenseman. “You’re playing three-on-three pond hockey,” Johnson said after the game, “Whether you’re a forward or a defensemen it’s just three against three. You’re just looking for an opportunity. They backed up a little bit and Nicole walked in and had a great view of it and it was a great shot. It was a great shot.”
A great shot it was indeed, giving the Badgers a 10-0 record for the fourth time since 2015. After solidifying their No. 1 ranking, Wisconsin will now set their sights for Minnesota State, traveling to take on the Mavericks in Mankato this Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. Both games can be seen on B1G+.