The University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team (4-0-0, 2-0-0) will take its first road trip of the season this weekend as the Badgers travel to Columbus to take on WCHA rival Ohio State.
Head coach Mark Johnson looks forward to the challenge his team will face in their first road games, citing that the team will have a real opportunity to gel while playing in one of the more difficult venues that Wisconsin will visit this season.
“It’s always good to travel, especially early in the season, to give the players an opportunity to interact with one another and really become a team,” Johnson said. “Ohio State is a tough place to play; it’s one of the tougher places to play in our league because their rink is so small and things happen so quickly. When they drop the puck Friday, we will have to be ready to play.”
The challenge of playing in the miniature OSU Ice Rink is always a great one, as the dimensions which have been expanded in 1999 are still only 200 by 85 feet (as compared to the international rink at the Kohl Center, which is 200 by 100 feet).
Wisconsin has historically adapted well to the smaller confines, compiling a career 7-0-2 record at the OSU Ice Rink. If Wisconsin is to remain undefeated on the Buckeyes’ home ice, they will need to be very careful with the puck as mistakes on the smaller rink are often magnified.
“It’s about moving the puck and jumping into space, just moving your feet and moving the puck,” Johnson said.
As much of a challenge as it will be to play on the road in an unusual arena, trying to corral the Ohio State Buckeye offense might be the most difficult part of the road trip. Although Ohio State hasn’t lit up the scoreboards the way the Badgers have this year, Ohio State returns its top four scorers from a year ago, and the Buckeyes seem poised to be one of the WCHA’s top offenses this year.
The player UW will have to look out for most is senior winger Jeni Creary, who has already tallied four goals this year, good for 40 percent of the Buckeye goal output this season. Creary, who was third on the team in points last year with 20 (eight goals, 12 assists), is joined by junior center Jana Harrington as the Buckeyes’ two most dangerous scoring threats.
Harrington led Ohio State in points and goals last year, scoring 31 points on 16 goals and 15 assists. Thus far, Harrington is again pacing the Buckeyes in points with five, including one goal.
The Buckeye defense is young and inexperienced; a factor the Badgers will need to take advantage of. The loss of All-American Emma Laaksonen has hurt the Ohio State defense greatly and they have struggled at times this season, allowing an average of almost 25 shots a game. Meanwhile, the Badgers have allowed an average of just 17 shots on the year.
The Ohio State goaltenders have helped shadow the blue liners’ inexperience thus far, as the Buckeyes have one of the top goalie tandems in the conference. Sixth-year senior Erika Vanderveer and sophomore Melissa Glaser will likely split time during the series and both have been very effective thus far in the season, combining for a .935 save percentage.
The Badgers won’t be able to take their first road trip lightly or Ohio State could end both the Badgers’ unbeaten streak at the OSU Ice Rink and, more importantly, the Badgers’ unblemished
4-0 record. Coach Johnson expects a good fight from the Buckeyes and a real challenge for his squad.
“They play hard,” Johnson said of the Buckeyes. “That is their coach’s [Jackie Barto] motto is that they are going to compete and they are going to play hard. We just need to match their intensity. They are coming off a big weekend winning two games in Mankato, so I’m sure their confidence is high. It’s going to be a real good challenge and certainly be an early measuring stick to where we are at in relationship to what kind of team we are going to have. It’ll be a very good test. I’m anxious to see how we respond to it.”