The No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team earned a berth into their 10th Frozen Four Saturday with a 7-0 win over No. 8 Robert Morris.
In front of a record, standing-room-only, sold-out crowd of 2,423 in Madison, the Badgers extended their season unbeaten streak to 21 games. Emily Clark had two goals for Wisconsin while Sarah Nurse extended her phenomenal postseason, adding a goal and two assists to give her 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in the Badgers’ five postseason games so far this season.
It was a fairly even first period, as both teams tried to skate out their jitters and settle in. The Badgers outshot RMU 14-8 and jumped on the board early to set the tone for the rest of the game. Mekenzie Steffen put the Badgers on the board first with a goal just 1:48 into the game. It would end up being the game-winning goal. She took a pass from Baylee Wellhausen back around the net and was able to bank it off Robert Morris goalie Jessica Dodds and sneak it into the net on the near post.
Annie Pankowski and Sarah Nurse combined for a gorgeous goal at 13:43 of the first to give Wisconsin the 2-0 lead. Pankowski stole the puck along the boards in the neutral zone and carried it in on Dodds’ glove side. The defense was caught covering Pankowski and that left Nurse free as the trailer right in front of the net. Pankowski slid her the pass and Nurse buried a no-doubter.
The Badgers took control of the game in the second period, outshooting the Colonials 25-2 and scoring four more goals to put the game out of Robert Morris’ reach.
Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said it can take time for a team to translate what they’ve watched on tape in preparation for the game onto the ice.
“You know, you can show footage and give the players an idea of what an opponent looks like, but until you actually get on the ice you really don’t get a feel of it. Once we got ourselves in position in the second period, we did a pretty good job of that for that 20 minutes,” said Johnson.
It was a tough loss for a Robert Morris team making their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, but coach Paul Colontino said his team had grown and learned a lot over the course of the season.
“We took the first step; and with that I think we have a group now that’s ready to run,” said Colontino. “When you get that out of the way, we couldn’t be prouder of this group. It’s a tough loss. Our season doesn’t hinge on one game. Did we want to win it? Absolutely. We want to go to the Frozen Four, we want to win a national championship. We’re not going to forget what this team did through eight months this season, which was just raising the bar in all aspects for RMU. We’re still pretty solid. The leadership that’s been instilled and passed on to them honestly leaves us feeling pretty bright on things.”
Wellhausen scored Wisconsin’s third goal when Sophia Shaver’s shot deflected off Dodds’ pads and ended up right on her stick, and that’s how the teams headed into the locker rooms for the first intermission.
Maddie Rolfes extended the lead to make it 4-0 off a feed from Nurse. Robert Morris took their timeout and switched goalies, putting sophomore Lauren Bailey in the net.
“With the goalie change, we just needed to reset, refocus, and see if we could get a fresh start to things,” said Colontino.
It was a banner day for Steffen, as she assisted on Wisconsin’s fifth goal. She had just three goals and 11 assists coming in to Saturday’s game. The Colonials missed Pankowski coming off the bench during the power play and she was all alone on Bailey’s blocker side
Emily Clark beat Bailey nearside and high with a simple little wrister from the faceoff dot to make it 6-0 and did almost the exact same thing in the third period to wrap up the scoring at 7-0.
The shutout was the 16th of the season and 54th of the career for Wisconsin senior goalie and two-time Patty Kazmaier top-three finalist Ann-Renée Desbiens. The Badgers will face Boston College in the national semifinal on Friday at 5 p.m. in St. Charles, Missouri.