Against Minnesota Oct. 29 and Nov. 1, the Wisconsin women's hockey team played its best hockey of the year, functioning well with strong goaltending and a high-powered offense that helped the Badgers to a pair of victories over their toughest competition of the year. It was a big difference from the same team that faced North Dakota, Bemidji State and Ohio State earlier in the season and split each of those series with first-game losses.
When Wisconsin faced off against Robert Morris last weekend, fans wondered which version of the team would show up: the strong performers who beat the Gophers or the Badgers who had already lost three games after dropping only two the year before. The answer came with a loss Nov. 6 and an overtime win Nov. 7 against the Colonials.
Tonight Wisconsin will take on Wayne State and look to get back to playing the way they did against Minnesota, and not how they did against their other four opponents. Head coach Tracey DeKeyser said the team must replicate the style of hockey they played against the Gophers to have success Thursday and Friday night.
""We played the toughest team the best,"" she said of the Minnesota series. ""It's a matter of emulating that and being consistent with our energy output and our pace that we set and our puck movement, that we're capable of but we're not executing all the time.""
Sophomore forward Brooke Ammerman, who scored the game-winning overtime goal against Robert Morris and had three goals in the Minnesota series, agreed the Badgers have to bring the intensity they had in the Border Battle into the rest of the year.
""[Against] Minnesota we had to be ready because we knew they were good, and I think we kind of rested on our heels,"" Ammerman said. ""This Thursday night we really need to come out ready to play, and hopefully we've learned our lesson by now, since we've lost four that way.""
DeKeyser said the Badgers cannot let their success in the 2008-'09 season cloud their vision this year.
""We just have to understand that we're a different group this year, those teams are a different group as well and we can't go on historical performances, our side or their side,"" she said.
As the competition for starting goaltender between freshman Becca Ruegsegger and senior Alannah McCready continues, DeKeyser has not picked a starter yet for the series against the Warriors, although Ruegsegger has started each of the past six games. The defense in front of that goaltender has been hit hard by injuries, but DeKeyser said she has been impressed with their play.
""For the shrinking corps that we have, they've been doing pretty good,"" she joked.
Junior defender Malee Windmeier, who did not play last weekend because of a hip injury, said she is feeling better and hopes to play this weekend.
Another injured Badger, freshman forward Brianna Decker, is close to returning after injuring her lower arm in the first series of the year. Decker, the WCHA Preseason Rookie of the Year, was on the ice at team practices this week, and DeKeyser said she could be back soon depending on the results of an upcoming doctor's appointment.
DeKeyser said having Decker back would be a big boost to the offense and team as a whole.
""You can't overlook the scoring power or potential that she has,"" DeKeyser said. ""She's a gritty, hard-working player that obviously has a great impact right away.""