Goaltending, defense propel Badgers in sweep of North Dakota

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first_imgWhen the horn sounded to signal that the overtime period had ended, the Badgers bench rushed the ice to congratulate Sarah Nurse. The wrist shot she had just sent flying past the glove hand of North Dakota’s goaltender Shelby Amsley-Benzie ended one of the more hotly contested and exciting games Wisconsin has seen all season.Both Friday and Sunday’s games held many similarities and reoccurring themes. Low scoring, magnificent goaltending, heavy defensive battles and fantastic goals. North Dakota challenged the Badgers, something that has been lacking in their opponents since, coincidentally, their last trip to North Dakota just over one month ago.North Dakota’s challenge came in the form of goaltenders Shelby Amsley-Benzie, Lexie Shaw and its chippy play directed towards some of Wisconsin’s star players. Despite a barrage of 48 shots by the Badgers Friday, Amsley-Benzie conceded only two goals.“North Dakota is a very defensive team,” freshman forward Baylee Wellhausen said. “They have a lot of people in front of the net, a lot of shot blocking. It’s frustrating, but we don’t let it get us down. We keep shooting and try to get those in the net.”Eventually, Nurse answered the calls for a goal when she delivered the game-winner by unleashing a quick wrist shot as she coasted across the face of the net from about 10 feet out. The goal instilled a feeling of relief in all those rooting for the red and white. Wisconsin had conceded their lead with only three minutes left in the third period, making a potential loss that more upsetting.The Badgers had finally put North Dakota to bed when Nurse’s shot hit the back of the net, and came into LaBahn Sunday expecting more of the same toughness. They were correct about their expectations, as Lexie Shaw, replacing Amsley-Benzie, tallied 39 saves on 41 shots. However, unlike Friday, North Dakota fired back with some offense of their own, forcing Badgers goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens to respond with some brilliant saves of her own.One save stood out in particular, when during the second period, a North Dakota player took a wrist shot from about 15 feet, centered in front of the net. The shot was hidden from Desbiens for most of its trajectory towards goal until she finally saw as it made its way past the players screening her. She reacted as quickly as she could, throwing her right shoulder up to catch the puck, deflecting it just enough where it spun over her shoulder and up into the air. Almost instinctively, Desbiens turned around, dropped her stick, and batted the puck out of the air with her blocker into the corner boards.Desbiens responded to Shaw’s performance, rebutting with a save to rival each of her opponent’s stops. Yet with each save, Desbiens’ play became more important as she was tasked with preserving the Badgers’ lead. The low volume of shots she faced, 21 in total, placed emphasis on each one she made, and many of them required her to exert tremendous effort.However, her play was helped by an inspired defensive unit that complimented her. Many breakaways and odd-player rushes were prevented by the defense intercepting passes, stealing pucks and blocking shots.“Every single save is important in games like these,” Desbiens said. “The last couple of games have been close, so when you don’t get as many goals, you need to make sure you’re focused on every single shot to make sure you keep your team in the game. But the defense has been great so far. They did a great job checking back and blocking shots. It’s been a real team effort.”With the defense and goaltending shining, along with the offense firing away and operating at a high level of fluidity, Wisconsin has continued to progress as the first half of the season comes to a close heading into winter break. Closing out 2014 on a high note has head coach Mark Johnson feeling that the team will be ready to ride into Minneapolis with confidence when they return to the ice to face Minnesota in January.last_img

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