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Sunday, May 19, 2024
Chasing Gold: Badger hockey greats past and present to watch at the 2010 Winter Olympics

knight: Hilary Knight will skate with Team USA as they try to claim gold for the first time since 1998.

Chasing Gold: Badger hockey greats past and present to watch at the 2010 Winter Olympics

Mark Johnson

No matter what Team USA and Wisconsin women's hockey coach Mark Johnson does at this year's Olympic Games, it won't beat what he did 30 years ago. In 1980, Johnson scored a pair of goals in the game many consider the best sports moment of the 20th Century: Team USA's victory over the Soviet Union at the Lake Placid games, the ""Miracle on Ice.""

Three decades later, Johnson has moved behind the bench for this year's Olympics as he coaches the U.S. national team that is expected to contend for gold in Vancouver. Johnson is joining his father, legendary Wisconsin coach ""Badger"" Bob Johnson, as the second member of the family to coach a U.S. Olympic team after Bob Johnson coached Team USA in 1976.

Mark Johnson has been away from Madison for almost the entire 2009-'10 season while coaching the national team at the Qwest Tour, a series of exhibition matches across the country, including one game at the Kohl Center against the Badgers. The tour also included three games against Canada, the opponent Team USA could face in the gold medal game in Vancouver.

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Seven current or former Badgers joined Johnson on the U.S. national team, including goaltender Jessie Vetter, current Wisconsin players Meghan Duggan and Hilary Knight and 2008-'09 team captain forward Erika Lawler.

Team USA is in Group B and off to a solid start with a 12-1 win over China and a 13-0 victory against Russia. Johnson and his team will take on Finland Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in a game that will air on MSNBC.

Dany Heatley

Not every Badger will be representing the red, white and blue in Vancouver: Dany Heatley was born in Germany but grew up in Calgary, and is certain to be one of the top players on the Team Canada squad favored to win gold.

As a freshman at UW in the 1999-'00 season, Heatley led the Badgers and was second in the WCHA with 28 goals. The next year, his 57 points was highest on the team, and Heatley decided to leave after two seasons for the greener pastures of the NHL.

In the pros his career has been impressive, if controversial. Heatley recorded a pair of 50-goal seasons but has had rough exits from his previous two teams, Atlanta and Ottawa, where he demanded to be traded away from both cities.

After a mediocre year with Ottawa, Heatley got the trade he was looking for last summer, and since settling in with San Jose he is playing one of the best seasons of his career.

Heading into the Olympic break he sits sixth in the NHL with 32 goals, and is racking up points on what some have called the league's best line with forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Marleau, who has scored 38 goals, and Thornton, whose 75 points are fifth highest in the league, will join Heatley on a stacked Team Canada lineup, and there is talk of making the trio Canada's top line.

Spotted with superstars like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Martin Brodeur and those three Sharks, Canada is the smart money for gold. They will have to contend with a talented Russian squad led by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin who will probably be their biggest threat for the top spot on the podium.

But if Canada doesn't have problems creating chemistry between its top players and performers like Heatley, they should delight the home crowd and win gold in Vancouver.

 

Hilary Knight

Her career is like a geographic pendulum, swinging back and forth from coast to coast: she grew up in California, moved to Chicago in her youth and then New England for high school. But then she went back to the Midwest to become a Badger, and finally returned to the West Coast, for the moment, to play the role of Olympian in Vancouver.

It's been a bit of a trip for junior and Team USA forward Hilary Knight.

Knight has taken a year-long hiatus from the Wisconsin program after a pair of successful seasons including a national title. Those years featured a prolific debut year and a sophomore campaign in which she led the country in goals with 45 and points with 83.

That second number represents the most points scored by a Badger in a single year and earned her All-American honors, the WCHA player of the year award and a finalist spot for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, her sport's highest individual honor.

As a member of the U.S. National team, she is expected to play a role similar to the one she had as a Badger: play in front of the net, disrupt the goalie's vision and put the puck in the net from just outside the crease.

The American team will look to break Canada's 12-year stranglehold on the gold medal. In 2006 the U.S. squad failed to make the finals, getting upset by Sweden and current Minnesota-Duluth goalie Kim Martin.

 

Brian Rafalski

The most veteran member of team USA, defenseman Brian Rafalski has come a long way from his time as a Badger.

The Michigan native fought his way into the NHL, playing four years in Sweden and Finland after college before finally making it to the big time. In nine-plus seasons with the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings, he became one of the more prolific scoring blueliners in the league and thrice saw his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup as a champion.

He was selected to two all-star games and surpassed 45 points six times and 50 points four times.

He played in Madison in the early 1990s and was a freshman on the 1992 NCAA runner-up squad. He made the tournament all four of his years in cardinal and white, but it was his senior season that perhaps stood out  most.

In 1994-'95  Rafalski was named First-Team All-American after finishing second on the team with 45 points, en route to winning the WCHA playoff title and earning the WCHA player of the year award. He assisted on four goals in the Badgers' NCAA tournament run, but Wisconsin bowed out just before the Frozen Four with a 4-3 loss to Michigan.

He finished with an even 100 points in 150 career games.

At 36 years old, this will be Rafalski's third try for gold. He earned a silver medal in 2002, but the Americans failed to place in 2006. He scored his lone goal of the 2002 tournament against Canada in the gold medal game, but the Americans only mustered one other tally in a 5-2 loss.

He will be the oldest player on a U.S. squad that went younger and faster this year, retiring a number of veterans from the 2006 team in favor of younger talent like the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane. Rafalski has said, however, that he believes his on-ice contributions will be more important than the experience and leadership he brings.

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