With the 2012-2013 campaign more than halfway completed, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team has more losses than the program has become accustomed to at this point in the season.
No. 9 Wisconsin (10-6-2, 6-6-2 WCHA) has totaled six losses in 2012, all to conference opponents, with two games remaining until the turn of the calendar year.
For most programs, this would be a record to boast about, but for Wisconsin, a team who has made the Frozen Four six times since 2005, six is double the amount of losses UW had at the end of December in 2011 and 2010 combined.
The Badgers knew this season would be far different from last year’s campaign which ended with a berth in the national championship.
Wisconsin lost four seniors to – including UW’s all-time career goals leader Hilary Knight – and have nine freshmen on the current roster.
Senior captain Brianna Decker says expectations were a little different going into this season with such a new team.
“I knew it was going to be a different season overall,” Decker said. “Expectations were it was going to be a challenging season, but one we can get by with, and one that we can compete with, other teams.”
Although some might want to panic after seeing UW’s conference record, there are a lot of signs proving Wisconsin is steadily improving.
Half of the Badgers’ losses came in the first month of the season. Since then, Wisconsin has been able to right the ship, ripping off seven wins in their last ten games.
Two more losses came last weekend at top-ranked Minnesota.
Although Wisconsin came out of Minneapolis without a win, the Badgers actually moved up a spot in the national rankings after two strong showings against the country’s best team.
In the second game against Minnesota, Wisconsin was able to keep the Golden Gophers off of the scoreboard for the first two periods of a 2-0 loss, a feat no other team has been able to accomplish this season.
Head coach Mark Johnson is pleased with the way his team is progressing over the season.
“We’re doing alright,” Johnson said. “If you take one, two, or three games and reverse them, all of a sudden you might be fifth in the country and everybody is looking at you like you are pretty good. So, it’s a learning process with young players.
“We have gotten better. That is very encouraging. As I look back over the last couple of months, we’ve made improvements in a lot of our game and I think it showed this weekend when we went up and played against Minnesota.”
Senior defenseman Saige Pacholok believes Wisconsin will continue to improve in the latter half of the season thanks to a team chemistry that has drastically improved since the beginning of the season.
“We for sure have a better chemistry than the first week we started,” Pacholok said. “I think the chemistry with the team, the connections we have with people, the friendships we have on the ice, will really show in the second half. The dressing room is a lot louder and a lot more rambunctious than it was before so I think that getting a little break and seeing each other after Christmas will be really good for us.”
The Badgers’ next four conference games will give a good indication of how the end of the season will play out for Wisconsin.
UW will match up with No. 8 North Dakota this weekend and then will face Ohio State in mid-January after a short winter break.
With both North Dakota and Ohio State above Wisconsin in the WCHA rankings, Johnson knows the upcoming four games are critical for his team.
“The next four games are crucial,” Johnson said. “You’re playing against two teams that are ahead of you in the standings. If you are successful in those four games, all of a sudden you can reverse those roles and then it looks like a totally different ballgame. So, I’m looking at four game series as a real crucial point in our season.”
Pacholok is so confident in the way the Badgers are playing that she believes Wisconsin has a long postseason run in them come March.
“I think the expectations, and I think it has always been like this especially with this program, is the Frozen Four,” Pacholok said. “If we keep getting better like we have been and we keep smart and hard every weekend, we can beat all of these teams that we haven’t faced in front of us in the second half.”
“I think we are very capable of being in the Frozen Four and I think we can excel and possibly win this year.”