Women’s hockey: No. 1 Wisconsin validates top ranking with sweep of No. 3 Minnesota in weekend Border Battle

first_imgThis singing of “Varsity” had a unique feel to it at LaBahn Arena Saturday night. This time, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team, which had just swept Minnesota not one, but two nights in a row — a feat that had not been done since 2009 — joined in the celebratory singing.Wisconsin (18-0-0, 12-0 WCHA) managed to keep an offensively strong Minnesota (15-3-0, 11-3-0 WCHA) at bay during two days of close competition, but the Badgers showed that they truly deserve their first place WCHA ranking. UW came out on top 3-2 Friday and 3-1 Saturday.The team was well aware of this pressure, but according to sophomore Annie Pankowski, that just made them even hungrier for these wins.“Going into this game, everyone knew that we had our opportunity to get a piece of them, and I think that our team came in confident and we did our job,” Pankowski said.Pankowski had a remarkable few nights of game play, scoring the game-winning goal Friday night during overtime, along with opening up Saturday’s game with two goals.This was, without a doubt, one of the most intense games that the Badgers have seen so far in the season. Pankowski admitted they got tired, but they couldn’t let their fatigue influence their playing, especially against rival Minnesota.“Even if you are tired, it’s just pushing that extra inch, trying to get the puck out, doing anything you can do,” Pankowski said.As is the case with every close game, both games relied heavily on Wisconsin’s defense, especially goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens. Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson praised Desbiens, especially her ability to hold off an offense as strong as Minnesota’s.“It’s an opportunity for [Desbiens] to really step up and be challenged against a really offensive club,” Johnson said. “I thought she played very well, made some good saves and earned a real hard victory.”Of course, Desbiens was supported by her defensive core, especially juniors Melissa Channel and Jenny Ryan. Both made sure to assist Desbiens and keep Minnesota away from the Wisconsin net as long as possible.Ryan said the team pushed aside their first-place ranking when it came to their preparations for Minnesota this week, but now it has confirmed Wisconsin’s first-place ranking to not only their critics, but also to themselves.“It really didn’t mean that much to us until we beat this team,” Ryan said. “There are no questions now. We know that we are a very good team and we just proved it.”Sam Cogan also proved something to herself Friday night, when the freshman managed to score Wisconsin’s first goal of the night in the second period.The goal served as a great confidence booster for Cogan and the entire team.“It made the whole team relax,” Cogan said. “It made us think, ‘OK, we can score on them and we can win.’”Friday night was a nail-biting matchup, with all four goals of regulation coming in the second period. The Badgers went into overtime, which ended when Pankowski, assisted by senior defenseman Courtney Burke, finished it off with the winning goal with 55 seconds remaining.Johnson, who has seen multiple matchups with Minnesota both as a player and a coach, said to beat a team like Minnesota, one of the keys would be to use all of his team’s opportunities to its advantage.“Both teams battled hard,” Johnson said. “Both teams capitalized on a couple of opportunities and we got the last chance with a power play in overtime to capitalize on the opportunity.”Pankowski said these wins against Minnesota showed the strength of Wisconsin’s program and proved they’re for real.“I think that we made a statement with these wins,” Pankowski said. “We’re here. We mean business. And we’re looking to win.”last_img

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