Newly-minted conference champions set up ultimate goal

first_imgMEGHAN CONLIN/Herald photoThe painful memory of last year’s loss in the WCHA finals still lingers for the Wisconsin women’s hockey team. After battling back from two goals down late in the third period, the miracle was not to be completed, as Minnesota struck first in the extra frame.This year, however, things look a little bit different for the Badgers. It is No. 3-ranked Wisconsin (25-4-1, 20-3-1 WCHA), not Minnesota, who has dominated the standings this season, and it is UW that has clinched its first-ever conference title.While most assumed it would take a sweep for the Badgers to wrap up the WCHA this past weekend, Wisconsin got some help from an unexpected source late Saturday as North Dakota upset Duluth 2-0, giving the Badgers the title.”Well, it was a little bit of surprise that it happened the way it did,” UW head coach Mark Johnson said. “I was very happy with the way we competed and played to win the game against Minnesota, but the unexpected came after the game when we heard about Duluth and I don’t think anyone anticipated Duluth losing. But it was a pleasant surprise that luck worked out for us and things fell into place.”With the title in hand and just four regular season games remaining, the Badgers will look to tie up any remaining loose ends as they head into the postseason. While one would be hard-pressed to find areas of weakness on this highly-talented team, the Badgers have split their last two series while experiencing some inconsistency on the power play.”We’ve been getting a lot of chances, but it’s about execution and we haven’t been executing,” assistant captain Sara Bauer said. “We’re going to try approaching certainthings from a different angle and see if we can generate some goals that way.”Johnson also expressed concern for his squad’s special teams.”At certain times of the game, the power play is very important. I think Friday night, we had three power plays in the first period, and if we score on one of those, it can make a big difference,” Johnson said. “As many coaches will say around this time of year, special teams are very important, and obviously our power play has to be working for us to be successful.”We’ll continue to work on it and tweak it and hopefully get some timely goals.”While the power play has been inconsistent at times, the same cannot be said about the superb goaltending the Badgers have received all season long. The tag team of Christine Dufour and Meghan Horras has changed to a three-headed monster with the recent contributions of redshirt freshman Jessie Vetter.Vetter got the nod against Minnesota Saturday and received WCHA Rookie of the Week honors for her efforts. Vetter, making her first start against a ranked opponent, stopped all but one of the Gophers’ 25 shots en route to the WCHA title.”Well, they’ll all be in the mix, but we’re in position right now with four regular season games left that hopefully they’ll all get an opportunity to play in one of those four games,” Johnson said. “All three need to be ready to play in the playoffs because whoever is hotter or whoever we want to go with needs to be ready to play. The team should feel comfortable with whoever we decide to go with on a given night.”Conventional wisdom would say to rest up before these essentially meaningless games, but players and coaches alike know that they cannot afford to change the routine that has made them so successful thus far. As the Badgers face off against WCHA counterpart Minnesota State this weekend, they are expected to show the same level of intensity that has been exhibited all season long.”We need to make sure we’re coming out with good intensity every night, because soon we’re going to get in situations where one game is your only chance,” Bauer said. “We remember what happened last year, and we need to bring our highest level of intensity every night.”last_img