May 4, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- After 40 minutes of play in the WCHA Final Face-off championship game, the Wisconsin women's hockey team found itself trailing Minnesota 4-2, having struggled to get the juggernaut that was the NCAA-leading offense in sync.
As the horn sounded marking the start of the second intermission, the zamboni took to the ice and the Badgers took to their locker room in Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
The Badgers hadn't found themselves in this situation many times before, and head coach Mark Johnson had to sift through his vast arsenal of intermission speeches to find one that would resonate with the players in the locker room.
Immediately following his speech, as Johnson and the rest of the UW coaching staff left the locker room, they were nothing short of surprised when the door was slammed behind them. The culprit of this remarkably bold act was senior forward Carla Pentimone.
"Carla came running in and was just yelling stuff at the top of her lungs," said teammate Stefanie McKeough. "At the end of her speech we were in awe."
Several players said Pentimone's speech was the jolt they needed to get going and attribute the team's success in that game to her. The Badgers scored two goals in the third period and one in overtime to win, 5-4.
"There were so many times this year that Carla has made such big momentum changes in the games [without being on the ice]," junior forward Carolyne Prevost admitted.
After her sophomore year of college, Pentimone decided it was time for a change. Hockey meant everything to the Chicago native, and after opting to transfer from Sacred Heart to the University of Wisconsin, she decided to test her skills as an attempted walk-on with the established Division I program.
Upon hearing the news that she had made the team and her dream to play D-I college hockey was now a reality, Pentimone approached Johnson and asked if she could have a hug. The soft-spoken and mild-mannered coach politely declined, patting the jubilant Pentimone on the head and leaving her to display her joy elsewhere.
Pentimone, the easy fan-favorite of the team, didn't reach her status of high popularity through ice time. Having dressed in only five games this season, Pentimone compiled just 22 appearances over her playing career at Wisconsin.
"For someone who rarely touched the ice," assistant coach Tracey DeKeyser said, "Carla's spirit and love for the game was stronger than just about anyone I've ever met."
Despite her limited ice time, her contributions to the team off the ice earned Pentimone the team's Badger Award for most inspirational player this season. Her energetic personality allowed her to deliver pre-game and intermission speeches that motivated the team.
Similar to her speech during the second intermission of the WCHA Final-Face-off championship game, Pentimone gathered the team together before the start of the third period of the national championship to pump them up for their final period of the season.
"She was yelling and getting everyone going," said Prevost. "She told us that we only had one more period left to win the national championship."
During a typical game this season, Pentimone could be found high up in the press box, assisting with the team video. Her desire to make the most out of any opportunity drove her to do anything and everything that she could to help out her team.
"Anything I could do to contribute I was happy doing for the team," Pentimone said.
Her ability to always put everyone else ahead of herself was her biggest contribution to Badger hockey.
Pentimone regularly went above and beyond for her teammates. When a teammate suffered a concussion and couldn't play, Pentimone did some research and bought her a special kind of tea meant to help heal concussions faster. When teammates Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, and Brianna Decker left for the IIHF women's world championship, Pentimone bought them all snacks for the long plane ride to Switzerland.
However, her thoughtfulness isn't directed only towards her hockey teammates. At a recent Chicago Blackhawks game, Pentimone turned to a young girl sitting next to her and started talking to her.
"She can make anyone feel special," said teammate Geena Prough. "And that's a quality a lot of people don't possess."
Pentimone is also known for her work within the community. Her teammates admit that whenever an opportunity arises to help out others, it is always Carla who volunteers first and tries to get her teammates to join her.
While she gives more than her fair share of time to several community service events, Pentimone said that her favorite is wheelchair hockey.
"It's a great, great experience," Pentimone said. "I love getting yelled at by the kids to push them faster."
In February, Pentimone organized the first ever sled-hockey game between members of the Badger women's hockey team and a local sled-hockey organization.
"I'm not sure who had more fun at the `learn-to-sled-hockey' game," DeKeyser said, "our players or the actual sled-hockey members."
Given Pentimone's caring personality and unyielding work ethic, it's no surprise that the work she put into her charity efforts off the ice matches the work she put in on the ice.
"She gives her all during every practice," said Prough. "She's just so happy to be there."
While only appearing in a handful of games, Pentimone's effort during practice was unmatched during her career at UW. She was always one of the last players to come off the ice after practice finished. As her teammates trickled off the ice to go home, Pentimone shot a few more pucks because of her love for the sport.
And when it meant the most, her teammates recognized all of her efforts on and off the ice, as fellow seniors Duggan and Kelly Nash each offered up their roster spot to let Pentimone dress on senior night. She received another gift from her team that night when she found out just 10 minutes prior to puck drop that she would be starting the game for the Badgers at right wing.
"It was just an amazing feeling," Pentimone said. "I'll be forever grateful to my teammates for wanting to help me out and for giving me that experience on senior day."
The Badgers' 2011 season culminated with the program's fourth national championship. Though undoubtedly a team accomplishment, many of the players attributed their title to the selfless Pentimone.
After the celebration on the ice had ended, Johnson made his way to the post-game press conference, where he was asked how he felt the team's experience contributed to winning the national championship.
"The most important player probably played the least amount this year," he responded, receiving puzzled looks from media members. Johnson elaborated.
"Carla Pentimone. Without her we are not sitting in front of you with a national championship trophy. You can ask each and every one of these players how important Carla was to the organization and the group and yet she played the least."
When she first heard her coach's statement, Pentimone admitted it brought tears to her eyes.
"Hearing something like that from someone who has so many accolades and has had such a huge impact in my life makes me feel like everything that I've done was worth it," said Pentimone, fighting back tears as she recounted her feelings.
After the Badgers brought home the national championship trophy, a jubilant Pentimone again asked her coach and mentor for a hug. This time, he obliged.
UW Athletic Communications