(Christopher Wiegl photo)
Dec. 6, 2012
MADISON, Wis. -- This weekend's Canadian Women's Hockey League series between the Boston Blades and Team Alberta should be marked on the calendar of every Wisconsin women's hockey fan. Five of the nine Olympians to play at Wisconsin will be at the series, including members of all four of UW's national championship teams.
The Boston Blades, the only American team in the CWHL, boasts a squad full of U.S. National Team members, including former Badgers Meghan Duggan, Molly Engstrom, Erika Lawler and Hilary Knight. Team Alberta, the western-most team in the CWHL, features similar talent with former Badgers, and Canadian National Team members, Meaghan Mikkelson and Bobbi-Jo Slusar.
While the faces on the ice may be familiar to Badger hockey fans, the style of play is slightly different than what most Badger fans are accustomed to seeing at the NCAA level. The vast majority of all the players in the CWHL played collegiate hockey, developing their skills in either the NCAA or CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) prior to joining their current teams.
"I developed a ton in my four years at Wisconsin, in terms of how I play the game," Meaghan Mikkelson said. "So that's four year's you get to become a better player, and now five years out of college, you've had that time to develop more of a hockey sense. You're just a more-mature athlete and more of a well-rounded player."
"I think the college game is pretty clean, for the most part," Molly Engstrom added. "Based on my own experience when I was in college, there was never really any fighting. In the CWHL everything is elevated. I don't know if it's because of the maturity of the players - that they're just older in life - or if it's in part of the USA-Canada rivalry."
With Boston being the only team in the U.S., and comprised mostly of Americans, that historic Canada-USA rivalry in women's hockey is often reflected in Boston's CWHL games.
"Since we're the only team in the U.S., we're also playing for our country," Engstrom said. "It's not quite the same as the USA-Canada rivalry that you see at the national team level, but it's close, it's intense."
The high-intensity and high-tempo games are sure to impress any collegiate hockey fan. Badger hockey fans, Wisconsin alums and all UW fans in the Boston area are encouraged to attend the games this weekend and see some of the best players ever to wear a Wisconsin jersey, and some of the best in the world, face off in Boston.
The six players that will be on hand for the weekend's games constitute only a portion of the elite talent that Wisconsin has produced since adding women's hockey 13 years ago. Wisconsin boasts nine Olympians, 13 senior national team members, four Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winners, and five players to record over 200 career points in the NCAA.
"I feel honored to have been a part of that, it's such a decorated program," Engtsrom remarked. "And it's no surprise with Mark Johnson as the head coach. He's such a great guy and such a great teacher - it's just a really respectful program."
"I'm very proud to say that I went there and proud to see how the team is doing," Mikkelson added. "I'm always cheering for them and hoping that they're doing their best. I think it speaks to the quality and caliber of the program. It's definitely one of the best schools in the nation that an elite-level athlete can attend."
Additionally, that connection to Wisconsin that the six players share adds another level of excitement to the games this weekend.
"Anytime I see those girls at hockey events I always think back to our days at Wisconsin," Mikkelson remarked. "I think any one that went to the University of Wisconsin and the players that follow behind them, there's a tie there - it's almost a feeling of nostalgia that you get. You know that they experience the same amazing things at Wisconsin that you did. It's kind of a special bond that you have, and as much as there is a rivalry there, there's a friendship there that will last a lifetime."
"I'm excited to see them," Engstrom said. "And it's a three-game weekend, which is kind of an interesting dynamic. Since they're so far away we have to play three games in a row. I'm just excited to see them and excited to play."
Saturday's, Dec. 8, game will be held at Ristuccia Arena at 6:35 p.m. Sunday's, Dec. 9, and Monday's, Dec. 10, games will be held at Veterans Memorial Arena in Somerville, Mass., with game times set for 1:35 p.m. and 12:23 p.m., respectively.