Long layoffs between games in an athletic schedule have come to be viewed as something equivalent to the plague, killing any and all momentum that may have existed previously.
Instead of looking at their break as a curse, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team embraced their 25-day winter layoff and have come back just as well – if not better – than when they left the ice in early December.
On Dec. 9, Wisconsin had just completed a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over No. 8 North Dakota at LaBahn Arena, capping off a series sweep over their WCHA rival.
However, any momentum that was gained during the home series against the Fighting Sioux was put on hold for 25 days until the Badgers would once again compete on the ice together.
While some might worry UW’s progress would be stunted by their time away from the ice, senior defenseman Saige Pacholok believes the break was beneficial for the team.
“Sometimes you get a little worried having a two-week break, but I think it was good because we all need a break sometimes,” Pacholok said. “Physically and mentally, I think it was good for our team.”
The Badgers had roughly two weeks without any organized hockey activity–time set aside for final exams and family.
After taking time to decompress and relax over the holidays, Wisconsin went right back to the grind in 2013 to prepare for a tough slate of upcoming games.
Head coach Mark Johnson agrees the time off is good for his team, but knows the key to avoiding a slump in 2013 is staying in shape.
“[The team] is pretty good about taking care of themselves,” Johnson said. “They are going to do something, whether it’s getting out on the ice every day or getting in the gym and doing some conditioning. It’s important because it’s a sport that is hard to get in shape for, but it’s easy to get out of shape.”
With a series against No. 9 Ohio State and another at North Dakota looming in late January, Johnson set up an exhibition game with the Minnesota Whitecaps, a professional women’s hockey team from the Western Women’s Hockey League.
The Badgers went ahead to dominate the Whitecaps in a 4-0 victory that saw Wisconsin outshoot their opponent 38-18.
Pacholok, who picked up two assists in the exhibition match, says the game was critical for UW to get back into the proper game mindset necessary to compete again at a high level in the WCHA.
“We needed that game to get back into game mode,” the alternate captain said. “You practice all week, but it’s different practicing than playing and your game sense kind of changes a bit, so I think that was beneficial for our team overall going into the Ohio State series.”
After their tuneup game with the Whitecaps, Ohio State, who had split a series with Wisconsin earlier in the season, came to the LaBahn Arena to challenge UW in a matchup that featured two teams ranked in the top 10.
The Badgers took the first game with a defining 4-1 victory, which featured two short-handed goals by Wisconsin and a pair of scores from senior forward Brianna Decker.
The second contest with OSU proved to be more of a challenge, but UW was able to snap a 1-1 tie in the third period with a late score by Alev Kelter to boost Wisconsin to their second straight series sweep of a top 10 opponent.
The Badgers were able to outshoot the Buckeyes 62-51 and allow only two goals to a team that averages more than three goals a game in the series, a sign the level of play had not dropped for a Badger team who had gone nearly a month since its last series against a conference opponent.
Decker, the team captain who ended up with two goals and two assists in the series versus OSU, says her teammates are now becoming comfortable in their roles which has contributed to the success in the latter part of the schedule.
“I think we are just playing tough and everybody is just kind of playing their own roles; everybody has stepped into their own roles and is used to that,” Dekker said. “We’ve been having great goaltending and the forwards have been putting the puck in the net. I think that’s what we needed and what we need to continue to do.”
In their last series before the spring semester began, the Badgers traveled west to North Dakota to take on the second best scoring team in the WCHA in the Fighting Sioux.
Despite being outshot in the series 59-50, UW was able to leave Grand Forks, N.D., with a series split.
North Dakota was able to blank Wisconsin 3-0 in the first match up of the series, but the Badgers were able to come back strong in the second game, taking a 2-1 victory on a third period goal by junior forward Madison Packer.
Wisconsin’s ability to maintain their momentum from early December into late January propelled the Badgers to a four-game win streak and to second place in the challenging WCHA conference.
Johnson is pleased with the way his team has hit a stride lately and attributes the success to consistency, but knows the struggle for a WCHA title has just begun.
But the Badgers’ destiny still lays in their own hands, as the team welcomes the No. 1 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers to LaBahn Arena this weekend in a crucial series. The Gophers have been the toughest foe of late for this Badger program, outscoring the team 6-1 in their two-game sweep of the team in December.
“It’s a long journey; it’s a long season,” Johnson said. “Over the course of the winter you make strides, and this team has done that. They’ve been pretty consistent in their work effort. Each game has been fairly consistent as far as the effort that they put into those games, so they are getting rewarded now which is nice.”