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Setbacks against Ohio State provide Wisconsin Badgers ‘the kind of motivation you can’t buy’ for WCHA semifinal

March 7, 2019
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Two weeks after closing the regular season with two ties against Ohio State, co-captain Annie Pankowski and the Badgers play the Buckeyes in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals on Saturday.

Mark Johnson sounded like a coach trying his hardest to keep his players’ vision on the future, not the past.

The University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team has a chance for revenge against Ohio State in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Frozen Faceoff semifinals on Saturday.

But Johnson wasn’t giving in to talk about how the Buckeyes kept the Badgers from winning their fourth straight regular-season title by earning a pair of ties two weeks ago.

“The big thing for us,” Johnson said, “is what can we do to win the hockey game on Saturday afternoon?”

His players had plenty to say earlier.

Minutes after the second-ranked Badgers clinched their semifinal spot by sweeping St. Cloud State last Saturday and knew that No. 9 Ohio State would be their next foe, they were starting to build toward the game at Minneapolis’ Ridder Arena.

“That’s the kind of motivation you can’t buy,” said senior Annie Pankowski, who had 20 shots on goal against the Buckeyes in the Feb. 22-23 series but didn’t score.

“You can’t ask for a bigger fire under this team. And that’s just really dangerous for us. We’re just going to be all over them, I can feel it.”

The Saturday semifinal against the Buckeyes — Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth play in the first Final Faceoff game — presents incentive on both sides.

A UW victory over Ohio State likely would knock the Buckeyes (20-12-2) out of NCAA contention, preventing them from coming back to Madison for a quarterfinal game next Saturday.

Ohio State, therefore, is playing to keep its season going.

“The energy is going to be really big in that game, and I think both of us are going to come out really hard,” Badgers senior defenseman Maddie Rolfes said. “Those are the most fun games, so I think we’re really excited for that.”

UW (30-4-2) is second behind Minnesota in the PairWise Rankings that determine at-large bids for the NCAA tournament and has a spot locked up.

The Badgers can take the No. 1 overall seed for the national tournament and add to their confidence level going into the NCAA quarterfinals by winning the Final Faceoff championship on Sunday.

The feeling with the Badgers already is in a good place after they swept St. Cloud State by a combined 13-0 in two games last weekend, their second-highest scoring series this season.

That’s a big difference from where they were a week earlier, smarting from two ties and two shootout losses to the Buckeyes that knocked them down to second place, behind Minnesota, in the final standings and prevented them from getting the first-round bye.

UW scored on only three of 95 shots that weekend on Buckeyes goaltender Andrea Brändli, who also shut out the Badgers on 32 shots in a 1-0 Ohio State victory on Jan. 11.

Badgers players didn’t need any reminders this week.

“They had a really hot goalie,” said freshman forward Britta Curl, who was named the WCHA’s Rookie of the Week after scoring four times against St. Cloud State. “I think we could have done a better job of getting quality chances instead of just throwing pucks at the net.”

Said Rolfes: “I think we’re ready to show everyone that that was a fluke and that wasn’t what should have been the result.”

It may be a matter of taking the positive out of whatever situation you’re put in, but the Badgers now see the benefit of going into the Final Faceoff after a dominating weekend instead of a bye.

Even without injured forward Sam Cogan and defenseman Mekenzie Steffen, UW had a feel-good weekend against an overmatched opponent. Pankowski had six points to earn WCHA Forward of the Week honors. Junior forward Presley Norby scored in back-to-back games for the first time since November.

“It puts us in a comfortable position, knowing that we’re playing our best hockey right now,” Norby said.

The Badgers are at the point of the season where the pressure goes up every weekend. They’re fine with that, Rolfes said.

“Coach just talked to us after practice and said, ‘We are coming home with that trophy,’” she said Monday. “So I think all of us are really fired up and excited for this weekend. And, first of all, just excited for another chance against Ohio State and getting some revenge.”