The long 32-game regular season is over and while the Wisconsin women’s hockey team cannot boast a sparkling record like that of the 2011-2012 team, this season’s team is in position to make a similar postseason run.
Wisconsin (21-9-2, 17-9-2 WCHA) started its 2012-2013 campaign off with a whimper, winning only five of its first 10 games including a three-game losing streak during that stretch.
The Badgers’ early season struggles now seem like a distant memory, with the team ending the season in second place in the conference thanks to a couple of long win streaks and a shootout victory from Minnesota-Duluth over North Dakota State last weekend.
Wisconsin now enters the WCHA tournament as the No. 2 seed where it will take on No. 7 seed St. Cloud State (9-22-3, 5-21-2) in the first round best-of-three series.
Postseason play is a thrilling time that brings out the best and worst of every hockey team and nobody knows this better than UW head coach Mark Johnson.
“I think everybody is excited [for the postseason],” Johnson said. “The regular season is now behind us and you get involved in the WCHA playoffs, so it can be a one week season or a two week season. With that brings excitement to a lot of the teams in the league.”
One person who is particularly excited for this weekend’s series is freshman defenseman Courtney Burke, who will get her first taste of the postseason as a Badger.
“[Getting ready for the postseason] is awesome,” Burke said. “I’ve been waiting all week and thinking about it. With school and stuff it’s hard to think about school when you’ve got these games coming up.”
Any why wouldn’t the freshman be excited for a first round date with SCS? The Badgers have made easy work of the Huskies this season, sweeping the season series 4-0 and outscoring St. Cloud State 23-4 in those games.
Wisconsin’s power play was has been able to feast off of St. Cloud State’s penalty kill – the seventh worst penalty kill in the WCHA – scoring seven goals in four games with the man advantage.
Burke says UW’s ability to score on the power play and get production from a variety of people will come into play in the first round of the conference tournament.
“Our power play did really well [the last time we played St. Cloud State] and that had a lot to do with [scoring 11 goals in that series],” Burke said. “Everyone was playing in that game. I think the one game someone else scored every goal, so I think we just have to keep that going against them.”
The Badgers have been getting a lot of production from star player Brianna Decker, but have been getting offensive production from players in lines other than the first as well.
Last weekend against Bemidji State, UW got three of its five goals from someone not in the first attacking line.
Junior forward Madison Packer knows getting contributions from everyone on the team will be key if the Badgers want to make a deep post season run.
“[Getting production from the other lines] is huge,” Packer said. “I think that they’ve definitely stepped up the last couple of weeks. They are playing well, they have confidence. Coach is rolling the lines pretty consistently, so it’s good. Decker’s line is playing well but it’s nice to have support from the other lines that are doing work out there.”
Wisconsin will look to stay hot this weekend, riding the momentum of a six-game winning streak that began with two wins in St. Cloud just three weeks ago. SCS, on the other hand, is trending down coming off of a two loss sweep at the hands of No. 1 Minnesota. The team also lost seven of its last ten games of the regular season.
The Badgers will be taking their winning streak to LaBahn Arena, where the new building will host its first postseason game. In years past, Wisconsin was forced to travel to Verona and play in the Eagle’s Nest when they had home-ice advantage because the Kohl Center’s sheet was too big.
Johnson said he is happy his team will have a true home game this year in the WCHA tournament and is looking forward to the playoff atmosphere overtaking the new Arena.
“It’s a big step obviously for both us and the visiting team to play [at Labahn],” Johnson said. “We know what the atmosphere is like here and I’m sure we’ll have a good crowd tomorrow night. Certainly the players will be excited to play their first playoff game here.”
Wisconsin will drop the puck with St. Cloud State on Friday at 7 p.m. in the best-of-three series and will play again on Saturday at the same time. If a third game is necessary, it will be on Sunday at 4 p.m.