And they’re back.
While they are a very different squad from 2008-09’s national championship squad, the women’s hockey team has a new energy and new confidence about them that was missing a year ago when head coach Mark Johnson and some of UW’s top players left for the Olympics.
This new energy helped lift the Badgers to 13 goals on their season opening weekend to beat the RPI Engineers Friday and Saturday night at the Kohl Center.
If there’s any indication of how different this team feels this year, look no further than Hilary Knight’s first goal Saturday night, only 33 seconds into the first period.
“I think we just caught them off guard, we have a little bit of speed, luckily I hit the post and it went in,” Knight said. “Some games you have it, some games you don’t. Fortunately for us we had it and the games where you get that lucky bounce and it goes in or that pass is supposed to be a pass, but it ends up turning into a goal.”
Knight may have scored the winning goal in the first 33 seconds, but she wasn’t done for the night quite yet. Of the Badgers six goals Saturday night, Knight scored two and assisted on three.
Knight gave a taste of why she was part of a silver-medal Olympic team last year and is helping give the Badgers new life this season.
“She was the best player out on the ice tonight,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “It didn’t matter where she was playing, she had the jump and the bounce and everybody got a chance to see why she is a special player.”
“She’s been bringing a ton of energy on the ice and off the ice,” sophomore defenseman Saige Pacholok added. “She’s a good impact player, works hard all the time, always heads up. She’s a real good impact on our team and we love having her back.”
The offense may have been strong Saturday night – producing a total of 31 shots on goal – but the defense and goaltending also impressed.
Freshman goaltender Alex Rigsby started in her first game facing only ten shots, not letting a single one past her. In her first start of her collegiate career, getting the shutout was the perfect way to start things off.
“It was a big thing getting the shut out and getting the first game out of the way,” Rigsby said. “It feels really good to have it be a shut out and I look forward to the next game.”
Wisconsin closed off their opening weekend with a strong, dominating style – the same with which they started the season.
Scoring in the first 33 seconds was nice, but it only took 15 on Friday night.
Seconds after the puck was dropped, junior forward Carolyne Prevost netted her first of two goals on the night. Prevost really can’t remember the last time she scored a goal that quickly.
“Not since I was probably little, like Tiger hockey,” Prevost said. “That was a fast goal. That was probably one of the fastest I’ve had in the past couple of years. It was right off the faceoff, it was a quick D-to-D pass and I think it was [Geena Prough] looked up and hit [Brianna Decker] who was splitting both defense and I saw that happening and I just started going.”
Not only does their line have good chemistry, the whole Badger offense was clicking on the ice.
In the 7-0 win Friday all three lines scored in the first five minutes of the game.
“The one thing we have is some kids that can get the puck in the net,” Johnson said. “We put lines together, looking for chemistry. But it’s a work in progress, we just starting the foundation.”
Wisconsin is used to having an Ammerman help light up the score board. On Friday night, instead of junior forward Brooke, litter sister and freshman forward Brittany found the back of the net twice in the first game of her collegiate career.
“It’s a great way to start off college,” Brittany Ammerman said. “Every freshman is nervous, but they’re also excited to get that first shift out of their system, then they’re good to go. Once you put the puck in the net, I don’t think it gets much better than that, then times it by two, it’s impressive.”
UW outshot RPI 62-21 on the weekend leading UW to completely shut out RPI. Wisconsin is off to a strong start this season and found its goal-scoring touch early.
“Like I say, when the horn’s going off that’s usually a good sign.” Johnson said.