After two solid wins against Bemidji State University (9-16-3) last weekend, the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team extended their win streak to 12 approaching the final few games of the regular season.
The No. 1 Badgers (26-2-1) will host the No. 2 University of Minnesota Duluth (20-4-4) on Saturday and Sunday at LaBahn Arena for final home series of the regular season and senior weekend.
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Emotions are running high for the top team in the league as the seven seniors who lead the Badgers are living through their last few moments of their Division I collegiate hockey careers. Head coach Mark Johnson spoke to the value of the senior athletes, whose dedication brought notable success to the hockey team over the past few years, at a news conference Monday.
“Each of the seniors in her own way has made great contributions to the team, whether it be on the ice or off the ice,” Johnson said. “Individually, there’s a bunch of things you can say about each one of them, whether it’s a save, shutout, block shot, goal or whether it’s the community service.”
Defenseman Mellissa Channell, defenseman Jenny Ryan, forward Mikayla Johnson, forward Sydney McKibbon, forward Sarah Nurse, forward Claudia Kepler and goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens will be recognized at a ceremony during senior weekend.
Johnson talked about the bittersweet atmosphere of senior day as the hockey careers of some of his most dedicated athletes are coming to a close. But this day will be especially emotional for Johnson, as his daughter, Mikayla Johnson, will be playing in her last home game as a Badger.
“Being a parent, whether it’s your son or your daughter playing for you, it creates situations as a coach where you have your ‘parent hat’ on and then you have to put your ‘coaching hat’ on,” Johnson said. “It’s what’s in the best interest of the team, so Sunday afternoon, I’ll put my ‘father hat’ on and be out there when she gets introduced as a senior.”
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After four years of balancing two meaningful roles, Mark Johnson seems to be very proud of Mikayla Johnson, as both a father and coach.
“There have been some good days, other games where I should have played her more and I didn’t, so I get disappointed in that,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day as I look back on her career, she developed great friendships, had a wonderful experience, obviously got a great quality education and, from a parent standpoint, … that will put a smile on your face.”
Johnson said he is looking forward to having the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs at LaBahn Arena this weekend, hopeful that the following weekend against the Minnesota Golden Gophers (21-5-3) will lead to a No. 1 spot in the playoffs for the Wisconsin Badgers.
One of the Badgers’ key up-and-comers is forward Annie Pankowski, who found a new sense of confidence recently, after scoring her first career goal against Duluth. Johnson said players like Pankowski will be wonderful replacements to the legendary seniors on their way out.
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The longtime head coach said he realized how important players like her will be in the future but will need them to step up against the second-best team in the country this weekend.
“Minnesota Duluth has been good and consistent all season,” Johnson said. “They’re a threat in a lot of different areas and it will certainly be a challenge for us this weekend.”
The Badgers will be playing Minnesota at the LaBahn Arena Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at noon.