After two months of almost nonstop hockey, the University of Wisconsin women's hockey team will finally receive a much-needed break. But only after a road trip to St. Cloud State (7-9-2, 4-9-1 WCHA) this weekend for a two-game series.
Following this weekend's series, the Badgers will have nearly a month off.
With two impressive victories last weekend against Robert Morris, the No. 2 Badgers (16-1-1, 12-1-1) rebounded well from their loss to Minnesota-Duluth and will face the Huskies this weekend.
Wisconsin swept St. Cloud State at home earlier this season.
"You don't want to get too far ahead of yourself and think about going on a break before actually being on one," said sophomore Erika Lawler. "[St. Cloud State] is going to want to get us because we swept them last time, so we have to stay focused."
"We've talked about playing six periods of solid hockey before the break," UW coach Mark Johnson added. "That's what we need to play to this weekend."
Although Wisconsin easily took home an 8-2 victory over St. Cloud State in the first game of their earlier series, the Huskies responded in the second game, playing the then top-ranked Badgers closely before ultimately falling 2-1 in overtime.
Knowing how close the last meeting was, the Badgers will not count out their opponents this time around as they head to St. Cloud, Minn.
"I think that they've improved since the last time that we played them, but I think that we've improved too since the last time, so we're expecting a close game," sophomore forward Angie Keseley said.
For the second consecutive week, the series will also serve as a family reunion for one Badger. One week after Phoebe Monteleone faced off against her younger sister's team, freshman Emily Kranz will be on the other side of her older sister, Jennifer Kranz, a St. Cloud assistant coach.
"It makes me play harder when she's there because she's pretty hard on me, but it's fun," Kranz said.
The matchup comes at an exciting time for the forward as Kranz scored her first two goals as a Badger last weekend.
The break awaiting the Badgers after this weekend will be especially important for them as they have played the most games to date in the WCHA and will have played in 20 total games by the weekend's close.
Considering several Badgers, including Johnson, ventured to Canada to play in the Four Nations Cup during an off-week, the break will provide some needed rest for the team.
"I'm looking forward to it," Lawler, one of the Four Nation's Cup participants, said. "I think the break will be really good for us."
Having shut out opponents in their last three games, two wins this weekend would go a long way to helping the Badgers round out the first half of the season with some momentum.
"Any time you get a break and can take a few games off for a while, it's healthy," Johnson said. "We started a couple of weeks earlier, so we've already got 20 games under our belt; but if we can have success this weekend, it'll be a pretty good half of the season, and we'll be in good shape."
Returning Jan. 6, the Badgers must be careful not to lose focus or get rusty during their hiatus.
The first game back for the Badgers will be against archrival Minnesota in a game that will determine who controls the conference.
"We know we have to stay in shape once we get to the break," Kranz said. "Because once we get back, it's Minnesota."