The time has come that everyone has been anticipating. Throughout each season of every sport, players, coaches and fans alike have thoughts of playoffs in the back of their minds. For the Wisconsin women’s hockey team, the exciting home stretch is about to begin.
The No. 2 Badgers (25-5-2, 21-5-2 WCHA) have seen a good amount of success this year, with records broken and series swept, and they aren’t planning on going down without a fight.
“If they don’t beat us this weekend, their season’s over, and it’s the same for us,” junior forward Blayre Turnbull, who is second on the Badgers with 34 points, said. “We have to win. It’s going to be a competitive series.”
The team that Turnbull referred to is Minnesota State-Mankato, which Wisconsin just swept last Friday and Saturday with final scores of 5-1 and 3-1. There had been talk beforehand about Minnesota State running a tight defense. However, Turnbull scored not one but two shorthanded goals on the Mavericks Friday, proving the Minnesota defense is no match for a Wisconsin offense.
“We learned that they have five forwards on their power play, so they like to do the switch near the [blue line],” junior forward Brittany Ammerman said. “After we went over it in practice, we kind of looked at each other and were like, they’re going to do that switch we can jump on it and beat five forwards down the ice.”
The Badgers hope for more of the same results this coming weekend, but the postseason atmosphere is always a bit different than regular season. Teams are more intense, knowing one wrong move could mean the end of the season. Players become desperately aggressive as they attempt to fight their way to the next round. Even the fans are louder and prouder, wanting to see their teams advance in the brackets.
If Minnesota State is going to give Wisconsin a run for its money, it will happen this weekend, when the first playoff puck is dropped. Head coach Mark Johnson knows of the many perils and miracles of postseason play and has been telling his team to not lose focus.
“The meanings of the game are totally different,” Johnson said. “Everyone is playing for a livelihood. If you beat somebody and eliminate somebody, that means the seniors are finished with their careers. In those environments you usually get the other team’s best effort.”
Minnesota State’s best effort has never been enough in its postseasons, however. The Mavericks’ last time advancing past the first round of playoffs was back in 2008-2009 and never has the team brought home a championship in the history of the WCHA.
On the other side of things, since 2000, the Badgers have made it past the first round nearly every year, winning their last championship back in 2010-2011 and taking second the following season.
Given these two teams’ runs of luck in postseasons past or lack thereof in the Mavericks’ case, combined with the Wisconsin’s long-standing winning streak versus the Mavericks, it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone of this first round matchup resulted in a lopsided scoreboard. Wisconsin has actually only lost one game all-time against Mankato, and has a 60-3-1 all-time record against the Mavericks. But as always, the Badgers are determined to step on the ice expecting to have to put forward their absolute best in order to walk away victorious.
“We know they’re going to come out even harder than last weekend,” Turnbull said. “This is do or die for them.”
This doesn’t mean the Badgers don’t have confidence in themselves. They know they’ve had a successful season, a successful run of series against Minnesota State and successful playoff tournaments in the past. UW knows what it has been doing right and plans on continuing with its good habits. Just last weekend against the Mavericks, seven different Wisconsin players scored the eight total goals, displaying a depth to its lines that few teams can boast.
Ammerman knows that this will be crucial to continue during playoffs.
“[Last weekend] was a committee of scoring,” Ammerman said. “Different people scored each night and obviously we got a few people rolling. We got Syd [McKibbon] to finally get a goal and Packer got her 100th point. I think that’s always good going into the postseason, having more people scoring, because in the postseason people have to step up. We see that in every sport.”
The best-of-three series will begin at 7 p.m. Friday night at LaBahn Arena and 7 p.m. on Saturday. If a third game is needed, the teams will play Sunday at 4 p.m.