When athletes start their college careers, they do so knowing one day it will all come to a close. Having four years to separate them from that unavoidable end, this thought is usually far from mind. But little by little, the “lasts” start happening— last season opener, last time facing a rival and, as six seniors on the Wisconsin women’s hockey team is about to experience, the last home regular-season game.
This group of seniors has had quite the memorable season with an overall record of 23-3-2 and a league-leading defense that boasts the highest scoring defense in the WCHA, along with allowing the least amount of goals per period. The combination has put Wisconsin (23-3-2, 19-3-2 WCHA) in second place overall in the WCHA, just behind long-time rival Minnesota, who will be coming to town this weekend and will most likely make the seniors’ last home game of the regular season a memorable one.
Maybe more interesting is the experiences these six seniors have had here in Madison. They’ve seen national championships. They’ve swept series after series and battled through beatings. Records have been broken and injuries have been had, making for six unique careers, each a little different from the next.
Senior goaltender Alex Rigsby has had a historic four years here at UW, breaking the record for number of career wins by a goaltender (previously held by Jessie Vetter) and just barely missed the Olympic roster this past summer.
“I didn’t think anyone was going to come near [Vetter’s record],” head coach Mark Johnson said. “But along comes Alex, who’s gotten better every year, who’s had some adversities through injuries and has been able to battle through a lot of different things.”
Rigsby isn’t the only player between the pipes that the Badgers will be losing after the season. After starting out at the University of Vermont, goaltender Ilana Friedman is a senior as well. She transferred to Wisconsin for the 2011-2012 season and dressed all 40 games, but hasn’t seen much ice-time, leading Johnson and the rest of her team to respect her for her hard work all the more.
“[Friedman] to me is the ultimate teammate,” Johnson said. “When we need her to go on the ice in any given situation she’s willing to do it and is well-respected by the other players.”
Senior defense Natalie Berg also had a nonconventional journey, finding her way to the roster as a walk-on her freshman year, something Johnson touched on in his press conference Monday afternoon.
“Look at Natalie Berg who was just going to come to Wisconsin to go to school and decided to give me a call one day,” Johnson said. “We gave her a try out four years ago, and she’s done an outstanding job in her journey to become a better player and to become a good solid division one defenseman.”
Defenseman Stefanie McKeough’s experience as a Badger has not been quite as fortunate. She was unable to join her teammates on the ice for the past couple years, due to a career-ending concussion from the 2011-2012 season, a hole in the lineup that has been difficult to fill. McKeough was voted the WCHA’s Defensive Player of the Year the same year she suffered her devastating injury.
“Steph was an injury away from probably being over in Sochi right now playing with the Canadian Olympic team,” Johnson said. “A part of life is dealing with obstacles, and an obstacle came along her away a couple years ago that unfortunately has taken her away from the game for two years.”
Defenseman Kelly Jaminski has played all four of her years at UW, contributing a steady amount of goals and assists, as well as denying most opponents the opportunity to score. She has seen high plus/minus ratings since her first year here and considers herself lucky to have been a part of two national championships so far.
“Freshman year the National Championship was amazing,” Jaminski said. “The teammates that year were just out of the ordinary, obviously some of them are in the Olympics right now, so that would probably be one of the top highlights ever.”
Forward Madison Packer echoed Jaminski, gushing about her past teammates who have gone on to the next level with their hockey careers and feeling lucky to have been line mates with some of them. But Packer has built up quite the stat sheet as well, being named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week on more than one occasion and earning herself two career hat tricks along the way.
Looking back at all the highlights of her time as a Badger, Packer replied that many of the most memorable moments to her were the experiences she and the rest of the team have had due to their head coach.
“We get a lot of opportunities because of the accomplishments that coach Johnson has as a player and just as a role model in the community,” Packer said. “We got to do a lot of cool things, like meet some of the Penguins players when we were out [in Pittsburgh]. I got a lot of cool experiences that wouldn’t have been afforded to me if I had gone somewhere else.”