Talk about distractions.
Sunday marks the Wisconsin women’s hockey team’s last regular season home game, and while it may mark the ending of another season, it’ll be a celebration of the success the Badgers have already had.
Between sending off five seniors and the awarding of the WCHA conference title, head coach Mark Johnson needs to keep his team focused.
“A lot of distractions, one thing a coach doesn’t like,” Johnson said. “But I think we’ve convinced the players that when they drop the puck and it’s time to play, you’ve got to be ready to go.”
No. 1 Wisconsin (26-2-2, 20-2-2-2 WCHA) hosts No. 8 North Dakota (17-8-3, 15-7-2-0 WCHA) at the Kohl Center Friday night and Sunday afternoon.
With the WCHA title sealed up, the Badgers are just trying to stay hot heading into the postseason, while the Fighting Sioux have a very different kind of motivation.
“They’re playing for moving up in the standings,” Johnson said. “They’re playing to keep their momentum going. It should be a good series.”
Both UW and UND boast two Olympian forwards in twin sisters Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux for the Sioux and Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight for the Badgers.
The Lamoureux’s combine for a total of 44 goals and 50 assists. With these two on the ice, North Dakota becomes an instant threat.
“Jocelyne and Monique, they’re great players,” Duggan said. “I played against them and with them. We just have to play them honest. They like to take players one-on-one. We have to make sure we handle that and just play our game.”
The defense may have its hands full with the offensive combination of the Lamoureux sisters, but playing in the WCHA week in and week out has provided a lot of preparation.
“I think it’s kind of the same as what we’ve been doing for every team,” junior defenseman Brittany Haverstock said. “Every team in the WCHA is so offensively talented so we have to be aware every game. Especially this game when we have two Olympians, just getting that puck up as quick as we can and try and create some offense.”
For the sixth week in a row, the Badgers have held on to the No. 1 spot in the nation and have gone 14-0-2 in their last 16 games. North Dakota has only dropped one game since Dec. 11 and hopes to pick up momentum with an upset over Wisconsin.
“Definitely a feisty game,” Haverstock said of the matchup. “They’re an aggressive team and they have a lot of talented players. It’s going to be a really gritty game, so I’m looking forward to it.”
“At this point it’s just maintenance and consistency, just making sure we’re staying on top of things, not getting complacent,” Duggan said. “Obviously we’ve got a bullseye on our backs right now and I think any team is looking to grab a win from us. Like I said, just stay consistent and keep up our good work habits and we should be ok.”
After a 10,668 fan crowd the last time it played at home, Wisconsin just hopes to share the weekend and its success with all of its supporters.
“This weekend is super special with us getting the conference trophy, and it being senior weekend, it’d be great to get a lot of fans in there,” Duggan said. “It’s huge for us to get that trophy. As a lot of people say, it’s one of the hardest ones to get. You’ve got to play hard for 26 games consistently throughout the season. It’s a tough one to get and we’re definitely excited to hoist it on Sunday.”