Badgers chase outright WCHA title

first_imgWith a sweep of cross-state rival St. Cloud State over the weekend, Mark Johnson’s squad clinched a share of the WCHA title for the fourth time in the program’s 12-year history.[/media-credit]After clinching a share of its fourth WCHA title last weekend, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team is already looking ahead to next weekend to claim the entire crown for itself.Entering the final regular season series, the Badgers, sporting a 28-2-2 record (22-2-2-1 WCHA), can clinch an outright WCHA title and a first seed in the conference playoffs with one win over Ohio State this weekend. The win would give UW a two-game lead over rival Minnesota in the conference standings.Head coach Mark Johnson is looking forward to finishing the season strong at the Kohl Center against the Buckeyes and shook his head in disbelief that the regular season is already drawing to a close at his weekly press conference Monday.The 2012 seniors will be honored this weekend for their highly successful careers, and Johnson knows this weekend’s game comes rife with meaning and emotion.“The challenge will be coming out at 2 o’clock [on Friday] and have some energy and have some pace to our game, and know that if we’re successful our team will be rewarded at the end of the game,” Johnson said.Johnson stressed a key to success at the end of the season is being healthy, as he cited the return to health of junior defenseman Stefanie McKeough as a big plus to the lineup. McKeough boasts a plus-minus ratio of plus 20 and is sixth on the team with 19 points in her 21 games played.In addition to staying healthy, senior captain Hilary Knight, who will be playing her last series at home this weekend, has been instrumental to the Badgers’ largely victorious season. Knight, who is the school’s all-time leading goal scorer, has done things with the puck “that you don’t see too often in our game,” Johnson noted.And more than her on-ice ability to score big goals and create opportunities is the leadership Knight brings that will be sorely missed for next year’s team.“A lot of the little things that the public or fans don’t see is how she conducts herself on a daily basis, very similar to a lot of other successful players over the years,” Johnson said. “She does things the right way, whether it’s school, whether it’s taking care of herself, 24/7 of being an elite athlete … She does it very well.”Johnson went on to make the case that if Knight isn’t the best player in women’s college hockey this year, she’s at least in the top three, citing how she has played out of position and has made sacrifices for the betterment of the team. According to Johnson, having Knight at center rather than out on the wing has allowed her to carry the puck more and create chances for her teammates.Knight is up for consideration for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, annually given to the nation’s top female hockey player, and her biggest competition may come from her own teammates. Junior forward Brianna Decker is second in the nation in goals with 30 and total points with 66, while Brooke Ammerman is fifth with 62 points.Additionally, goaltender Alex Rigsby leads the nation with a .951 save percentage and is second in the country with a 1.40 goals against average.As the Badgers finish up the regular season, it will be difficult for them to keep their eyes on the prize and not slip into a mindset of complacency. Johnson is taking it one day at a time to keep his No. 1-ranked team in tip-top shape as they continue to ride an eight-game winning streak.“The team’s played consistent in the 32 games we’ve played, and for us to be in the position that we are in is a compliment to the players,” Johnson said. “As clich? as it is, we’re taking it one day at a time.”“We’ll go about our business like we have since September, and I’m sure the players will come out very excited and very enthusiastic about Friday afternoon’s game knowing what’s at stake.”last_img read more