When the Wisconsin women's hockey team faced off against Wayne State last Friday, there was one player on the Badger bench who was probably the most anxious to get back out on the ice. And when she did, freshman forward Brianna Decker made the most of it.
Decker had been sidelined with a forearm injury since scoring a goal against North Dakota Oct. 3 in the second game of her college career. She literally followed her shot, crashing violently into the Sioux net along with her second goal of the game, sustaining the injury that would keep her out for nine games.
But on her first shift back from the injury, Decker showed she has not lost the skills that made her the WCHA's Preseason Rookie of the Year. Seconds after hitting the ice, Decker intercepted a Wayne State pass and hit streaking freshman forward Brooke Ammerman, who scored to put the Badgers up 1-0.
""It felt great,"" Decker said. ""It was nice to get out there with the team atmosphere again, on the bench, supporting the team, and I think everything connected well.""
""Clearly, she didn't want to be on the bench any more,"" head coach Tracey DeKeyser said.
It was no accident Decker hit the ground running. If you came to a team practice in the weeks she was out, you could count on seeing Decker watching practice from the Kohl Center floor, doing exercises to get her arm back in shape and trying to stay connected to the team.
DeKeyser said she and the team are very excited to have Decker back on the team, not just for the scoring threat she poses but also because of her dedication.
""I'm excited because I think the players are excited,"" DeKeyser said. ""They know that she's going to work hard every shift and she loves the game, and it's always fun to play with people like that on your team.""
Senior forward Jasmine Giles said Decker's transition to the college game has been nearly seamless despite the time she missed.
""She came in ready to go, you'd never know she was a freshman if you met her off the ice [or] if you looked at her play on the ice,"" Giles said.
DeKeyser credited Decker's skill level for helping with the transition to college-level hockey.
""She's pretty advanced in her vision on the ice and her skill level,"" DeKeyser said. ""She can snap-release a puck better than most players I've seen her age and most players that are even older than her.""