Hey Badger Fans,
The NCAA tournament is here and the team is excited at the opportunity to play another game come Saturday. Despite a tough loss last weekend, the team has rallied together and is looking forward to pulling those Badger uniforms on this weekend and going to work as a group.
The NCAA tournament is the best hockey of the year, and despite missing out on the opportunity to play in the post season last year, the team looks forward to taking full advantage of our opportunity this time around.
"The bitter taste left in our mouths last year after missing is a huge motivation for many of us this weekend," said senior defenseman Natalie Berg. "We feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of the tournament this year, and having home ice for the quarter final game is a big advantage. It should be a great environment Saturday night at LaBahn."
Two other seasoned veterans had similar emotions about the tournament.
"There's definitely motivation having missed the tournament last year," junior forward Katie Josephs said when asking her about the past couple years. "I know how much fun it is since I was on the team when we made it to the Frozen Four two years ago so missing it last year was hard. This year though there's nothing that I would want more than to have the opportunity to play in that tournament again."
Like her, classmate Karley Sylvester (also a line mate of mine for the past two seasons) wants nothing more than to make it back to the Frozen Four and also commented that the bitter taste for this team comes not only from last season, but also from the tough lesson we learned last weekend.
"I think there is a lot of motivation not only from last year but also last weekend losing to North Dakota," Sylvester said. "We all realized this is the last chance we get and we have to take advantage of our opportunity or our season will be over." I couldn't agree more with my line mate, and know that the team is looking forward to the opportunity to take care of business this time around.
Unlike our veterans who have experienced the NCAA post season, our team is comprised of a number of players who will be competing in the tournament for their first time in the Badger uniform, an experience they are looking forward to making the most of.
"It is super exciting getting the chance to compete in my first NCAA college tournament and I'm really excited to see what the weekend has in store," freshman defenseman Jenny Ryan said. Much like Jenny, freshman Mellissa Channell is excited for the tournament to get underway Saturday night.
"This being my first NCAA tournament, I'm very excited," Channell said. "Being able to play with the top 8 teams in the country is huge. The games in the NCAA tournament are very important for myself and the team, but going through this I want to be successful for the seniors for their last year."
I think Chan might have been sucking up to me a little bit with the shout out to the seniors, but I will take it.
The last group that I caught up with was the sophomores. A class that competed last year and finished one spot out of the top eight as we sat at home and watched the tournament on the couch, having our season cut shorter than desired.
"I'm really excited to be going into my first NCAA tournament," Katy Harding said. "Thinking about all the hard work the team has put in this year to be here is really rewarding and I'm looking forward to continuing on and advancing farther."
Senior goaltender Ilana Friedman summed it up in her response to my question about the entire team's motivations heading into the weekend whether they have been to an NCAA tournament or not.
"We know how close it comes at the end of the year for making it into the tournament," Friedman said. "Because we missed it by such a small margin last year I think that motivated us the entire summer to do whatever it took training wise to make that margin fall on our side this year and it was evident with our success throughout the season and I'm confident that the motivation wasn't just about making the tournament it's about performing successfully within it as well."
The team is excited to play this weekend, but also recognizing that just making the tournament is not what we have prepared for all year and knows nothing less than a victory will be something we settle for.
While the team is looking forward to the experience, we also recognize that this tournament is far more than a fun memory, but is about taking care of business and doing the little things in order to reach our team goal of the Frozen Four.
As coach told us a few days ago, we played OK, but OK won't win championships. The team is not looking to get ahead of ourselves and is focused on taking it one game at a time, as that is all we are guaranteed. In order to find success this weekend the team knows we have to be willing to work harder than we ever have but also knows to enjoy the journey.
"I'm really excited for the weekend," Berg said. "It's going to be a great battle, everything is on the line. We have never played Harvard during my time here at Wisconsin but they are a good team. We just need to play smart and with a lot of intensity and grit if we want to be successful."
Ilana Friedman reiterated what Coach Johnson had to say remarking, "Our expectation is to win and to reach that goal means working together as a group and doing the little things for 60 minutes or however long it takes. We all know that at this time of the season "good" isn't good enough and doing those small things whether it's winning 50/50 battles or staying positive will propel us to that "great" level."
While Harvard is an opponent we have not faced yet this season, the team knows that doesn't matter and in order to be successful hard work is the best tool we can bring to the table. While many people lately have been quick to criticize our team's ability to put the puck in the net, we know no time is better than now to keep shooting. The team has had one of the best weeks of practice to date, and is looking forward to a few bounces going our way this weekend.
"I'm expecting some very tough competition but I also think our team will play one of the best games we have all year," Josephs said. "We've had a great week of practice and everyone's excited going into Saturday's game. In order to be successful we just have to play our game and put the puck in the net. We've had a lot of chances and opportunities the past couple of games so in order to be successful this weekend we really have to bear down and bury those chances."
Sylvester agrees there has been, "a lot of energy around the rink this week," and is confident in about the mindset of the team heading into the weekend. The team recognizes that in order to be successful we not only have to work hard, but also have to enjoy the process.
"Our team has been very focused about this weekend," Harding said. "I think if our team keeps it simple and brings high energy we should be successful and that will make us enjoy it." The team knows that we play our best when we enjoy the game, and that is what we plan to do when we face off Saturday night.
The underclassmen of the team don't really know what to expect heading into their first NCAA tournament, but know that this game is no different from any other as far as we are concerned. Playing our best hockey when it matters most is the only thing on the teams mind heading into the weekend, and the players are more confident than ever in themselves and each other heading into the weekend.
"Going into the game on Saturday, the first couple of shifts are going to be very important," Channell said. "We have to make sure we are communicating at all points of the game. We also have to believe in not only ourselves, but everyone on the team."
The final point made by Channell is one that we have stressed at many times throughout the last week, and with everyone on board out team is more confident than we have been all year heading into the most important game of the season.
Ryan had some of the best words of wisdom for what to expect this weekend, and a good tip of advice for her teammates that I touched on a little earlier in the blog.
"I am expecting a really intense exciting game this weekend that isn't going to be easily won by either team," Ryan said. "I'm really excited heading into the tournament and really pumped at the chance to win something big."
As far as the advice for her teammates, well Coach if you need some material for Saturday nights pregame speech, just take a page from Jenny Ryan's book.
"I think as a team we need to focus on playing our game and playing as a team," Ryan said. "It's important for everyone on the team to focus on being the absolute best they can be individually, playing their roles and then coming together. If we do that we will get it done. Obviously it's crunch time but our most important goal should be to have fun, because I think that's when we play our best hockey."
Having fun and working hard is what it is all about for this Badger team. Believing in ourselves and the abilities of our teammates and knowing that we have earned the right to play Saturday night but also making the most of it is the mentality that will help our team be successful. The team is set to hit the ice Saturday night at 7pm in LaBahn Arena and hope to see all our local fans out to cheer us on as we play one last time in front of our home crowd on our journey to our ultimate goal.
Thank you to all those who have supported us throughout the season, and we hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as we have. The journey continues Saturday night, be sure to make your way out to LaBahn, or tune in wherever you may be! Until next time, thanks for reading, and ON WISCONSIN!- Madison