Sept. 22, 2013
Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson always had a hunch that Carla MacLeod would end up becoming a coach herself.
"I know when she played for us she was like having another coach on the ice, whether it was in practice or on the bench," Johnson said. "She understands the game and how it should be played."
After a successful playing career both at Wisconsin and with Team Canada, including a pair of Olympic gold medals, MacLeod has found her way to the bench. She is an assistant coach for the Japan National Team, which happens to be the Badgers' first opponent of the 2013-14 season. The two teams meet in an exhibition contest at 7 p.m. Monday at LaBahn Arena. Admission is free.
Team Japan has qualified for the upcoming 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, which will send MacLeod to the Games for a third time. Even though she won two gold medals for Canada, including one against Johnson in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, MacLeod says her greatest hockey moment came not on the ice, but on the bench.
"I have said that to anyone that will listen, when we qualified for the Olympics in February, when we won that tournament, that was the proudest hockey moment I have been a part of," MacLeod said. "There is such a reward to see other people succeed."
MacLeod didn't expect to make a return to the Olympics after 2010, especially not as a coach for Team Japan. Now, she can't wait for the 24 players to go through the Olympic experience she enjoyed twice during her playing career.
"It's crazy when I think about it," MacLeod said. "It has been such a rewarding experience working with this group. It is nothing about me going to another Olympics, but for me to watch from a front row seat these girls experience their first Olympics. For a lot of these girls, they didn't know they could do it. So the day that we go to the opening ceremony will probably be one of the proudest days of my life."
Team Japan is preparing for its trip to Russia in February with a five-game tour of the United States that has the Japanese facing some of America's best collegiate teams. The Japanese, who open up the tour with Wisconsin, will also face WCHA teams St. Cloud State, Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth, along with the University of British Columbia.
The Wisconsin game will be the most special of the five for MacLeod, who played at Wisconsin from 2001-05. She played under Johnson and UW associate head coach Dan Koch and alongside current assistant coach Jackie Friesen.
While at Wisconsin, MacLeod helped the Badgers make their first appearance in the NCAA tournament and was named USCHO Defensive Player of the Year in 2005. A two-time All-American, she also served as a Badgers captain twice and was a student-assistant coach from 2006-07.
"We had a great group here," MacLeod said. "I don't have one or two key memories that stick out, but that is what I think makes it great, the whole experience. I always say when I speak now, if I could relive four years of my career, it would be the four years I played at Wisconsin, not the four years that have two Olympics in it.
"I think that speaks volumes on how positive the experience was. It was entirely the whole package, the academics, the hockey and the resources that were available. They take care of you, and that makes a difference."
MacLeod is also impressed with the growth of the Badgers' program since she joined the team in its third year of existence.
"I'm proud to call myself a Badger," MacLeod said. "You walk into the facility at LaBahn and think how great it is where we are with women's hockey at Wisconsin. It was a growing process, there were a lot of players before me that gave time and commitment to the program. My teams never won a national title -- the team my senior year finally made it to the NCAA tournament -- but we kept getting better and better. There are great people there and that is what makes it a great program."
Both Johnson and MacLeod are looking forward to Monday's showdown and believe the game will be beneficial for both teams.
"It is going to be awesome to coach against Mark," MacLeod said. "He was one of the major influences in my life, and to look across the bench to see him, Jackie and Dan, all three of them on the bench, I'm looking forward to it. It will be a good opportunity from a development standpoint for Team Japan, and it will be a challenge for us."
"It makes the game a little bit more special going up against a former player. Fans will see an organized and disciplined team, and it will be a challenge for us, especially when we have had only a few days of practice," Johnson said of Team Japan. "It comes at a good time, though. At this time of the year you want to find out about your team, and the best way to do it is to play some games.
"This game will be a challenge. This will be an opportunity for us to learn and grow as a group."