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Sunday, April 21, 2024
Ohio Wisconsin Women's Hockey 2/24 9

Another year, another victorious Wisconsin women’s hockey season

As the regular season concludes, let’s take a look at the triumphant women’s hockey team and some milestones in their 2023-24 season.

It has been a long but largely successful season for the Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team.

The Badgers capped off their regular season this weekend against the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes, winning on Saturday night 4-2 after losing on Friday. There were some ups and downs in the season, but let’s not overlook Wisconsin’s favorable postseason position: the Badgers hold on to the two seed as they head into the playoffs and will face St. Thomas this Friday in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. 

Coming into the 2023-24 season, the 2022-23 NCAA champion Badgers were looking to claim another title after surpassing Minnesota for the most NCAA championships and only graduating five players. 

Wisconsin built up momentum in the first stretch of the season, winning 12 games straight before being shut out to the 2022-23 NCAA runner-ups Ohio State. During this loss in November, Buckeyes forward Jennifer Gardiner, who is sixth in the nation for goals scored, scored two of the three unanswered goals that game before contributing to both goals during the game the day after, resulting in a 2-1 victory for Ohio State. 

Wisconsin bounced back from this two-game sweep and produced a sound 3-0 win over Minnesota Duluth. However, the Badgers went on to lose the next two games to Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota despite acquiring five power plays, only one of which saw Wisconsin score against Minnesota

The Badgers didn’t let these string of losses deter them. Mark Johnson and company went on to win 15 games straight before losing to Ohio State again this past weekend. Still, the Badgers bounced back with a Saturday win to finish the regular season with a 29-5 record. 

A 15-game win streak should not be overlooked, given Wisconsin faced some formidable opponents and asserted their dominance against teams like Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota and St. Cloud State. 

Wisconsin’s season sweep over St. Cloud State is particularly impressive considering the fact that St. Cloud State handed one of just three losses to No. 1 Ohio State. St. Cloud State scored two goals in the second period of that game despite only having 17 total shots on Ohio State goalie Sanni Ahola. 

The Badgers’ sweep against St. Cloud State, coupled with the latter season sweep over Minnesota, gave them the momentum they needed to go into their final matchup against Ohio State at LaBahn and make a statement to the number one ranked team in the nation. The game remained scoreless through the first period last Friday. Although forward Maddi Wheeler scored just a minute and a half into the second period, Ohio State answered back with two goals at the end of the second period and one at the end of the third, resulting in a 3-1 loss for the Badgers. 

However, the Badgers’ unwavering determination was on full display Saturday. After being down 2-0 at the end of the first period, Wisconsin would go on to score four straight goals, with senior forward Casey O’Brien contributing to three of the four goals and freshman goalie Ava McNaughton finishing the night on a .939 save percentage.

So where does all of this leave us now? For starters, much of this team’s success can be attributed to some key players. 

Sophomore forward Kirsten Simms contributed over a third of all points scored by the Badgers this season, finishing her second year with 61 points for a second-place finish in the country among total points. Simms must continue this formidable performance throughout the playoffs if the Badgers hope to defeat Ohio State, should Wisconsin encounter the Buckeyes in the playoffs. Unfortunately, Simms has had a tough time against Ohio State, managing to only rack up one point in the Badgers’ four encounters. 

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The same cannot be said for O’Brien, who managed to score the first two goals for the Badgers against Ohio State on Saturday night after being down 2-0. O’Brien then assisted Laila Edwards late in the third for an empty-net goal, resulting in a decisive 4-2 win for the Badgers. 

O’Brien capped off the regular season with 56 points, finishing second on the team in total points. What’s more, her 39 assists are the most of any NCAA player in the country from the past seven years. 

Her playmaking and Simms’s goal-scoring are necessities if the Badgers hope to remain victorious throughout the postseason. 

Although there is no predicting what will happen in the coming weeks, history has been on the Badgers’ side. Since the start of the NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Championship in 2001, Wisconsin has made 16 appearances and has won nearly half of them, but no season thus far has been as successful as this one. With only two losses at LaBahn this year 13 wins on the road, Wisconsin has all the tools to go back-to-back.

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