[media-credit name=’GREG DIXON/Herald photo’ align=’alignright’ width=’336′][/media-credit]
Although University of Wisconsin women’s hockey coach Mark Johnson may not say the Badgers will be seeking revenge when they take the ice to face a New Hampshire team that beat them twice last season, he made sure his players were conscious of the series’ history.
“Coach came into the locker room and said in our entire history of women’s hockey we’ve never beaten UNH,” said senior forward Erika Lawler. “Definitely [we want to] get some revenge on them because we haven’t won, and I think that’ll be some motivation for us to get going in that first period.”
While the players plan on using their history against the Wildcats as inspiration, Johnson chose instead to play down the redemption factor of this matchup.
“Revenge game?” Johnson asked. “I don’t even know how many times we’ve played them.”
One place the Badgers haven’t played them is in the NCAA Championship, and even though the Midwest has been home to the national title recently, New Hampshire’s success has helped spark a debate about which conference is preeminent. Lawler confessed there are certainly some regional bragging rights on the line over the weekend.
“There is always that argument: What league is the best?” Lawler said. “The Hockey East? ECAC? WCHA? I definitely think that we’re in part representing the WCHA when we go there, and that is big for our league. And they’re representing Hockey East. It’s definitely a conference rivalry, and hopefully we’ll show them how we do it out west.”
Complicating this year’s matchup is the location. The two cold-climate squads will be facing off in Fort Myers, Fla. Although Wisconsin is sacrificing their turn for home ice in the series, the players are delighted to be heading south.
“I’m definitely excited to go to Florida,” junior forward Jasmine Giles said. “It’s going to be awesome. I hope the ice is good though, because usually in hot climates the ice kind of gets a little soft, but I think it’ll be good.”
According to a UW Athletic Department staff member, the contest was initially scheduled as part of a tournament, but after other teams backed out just the Badgers and Wildcats remained. Junior forward Kyla Sanders’ father manages the rink the teams will play on, and, she says, had a role in orchestrating the trip. Lawler said she hopes the warm weather doesn’t divert the team’s attention from its goal in Florida.
“It’s kind of a big distraction to be going to a warm state,” she said. “It’s going to be a completely different environment than we’re used to now with the snow out there. … Our main focus is to go there and play a couple hockey games — we don’t want to get caught up in the whole vacation aspect of the trip.”
To prevent any minds from wondering, Johnson reminded the team it’s just another road trip.
“It’s 25 degrees here, and you go and it’s 75 degrees there,” he said. “You still have to get on an airplane, you still have to get a hotel, you’re playing in a rink that you’re not used to — it’s like a difficult road game except the sun’s going to be out and it’s going to be a little bit warmer.”
Making it much easier to disregard the sunny surroundings, though, is the history between the two teams. It’s a history Lawler said she hopes the team can put to use this weekend.
“I think that if we definitely go out there with some energy and in the back of our minds have them having beaten us the entire four years that I’ve been here so far, it’s definitely a motive to go out there with some energy,” Lawler said. “And hopefully a shot at some revenge.”
Johnson agreed the team will be tested, but added that in the end they will benefit.
“When you get challenged … it brings out the best in you,” he said. “This is no different than playing Minnesota or Duluth … and after the weekend the teams will be better because of it.”