Wisconsin women's hockey head coach Mark Johnson might be thousands of miles away coaching Team USA at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but some of the wisdom he taught his players at UW has been on the Badgers' minds this week.
In both of their games against Minnesota last weekend, Wisconsin gave up third-period leads—they recovered from one and won the game in overtime but fell in the second, allowing two Gopher goals in the last 5:08. With Ohio State visiting for the first round of the WCHA playoffs this weekend, the Badgers surely remember their loss in Columbus Jan. 29, when two goals in the final four minutes, including one with nine seconds to go, resulted in a Wisconsin loss.
So when asked about giving up late leads, sophomore forward Carolyne Prevost and senior forward Jasmine Giles gave almost identical answers from their coach's teachings.
""When we're up we play not to lose instead of just playing to win,"" Giles said. ""We've had to get too defensive, and once that happens it gives them the opportunity to score.""
Prevost echoed Giles word for word, adding that Wisconsin needs to keep its foot on the gas as time winds down.
""There's a big difference between playing to win and playing not to lose, and I think at the end of games we're playing not to lose,"" Prevost said. ""Keep the pressure on and good things will happen.""
The Badgers are flying high in terms of confidence, however, thanks to that overtime win over No. 2 Minnesota and their near-sweep of the Gophers. Interim head coach Tracey DeKeyser said the win was huge for the team, giving them good momentum going into the postseason.
""It was a wonderful uplift for our group mentally. I think it proves not only to our program but to other people nationally that we can beat anyone,"" DeKeyser said. ""That's what we want to put our minds to going into this weekend.""
The two late goals the Badgers surrendered against Ohio State were scored by freshman forward Hokey Langan and sophomore forward Laura McIntosh, two of the Buckeyes' most intimidating forwards. Langan, McIntosh and sophomore forward Natalie Spooner make up three of the top five scorers in the WCHA and will be a tough group to slow down in the best-of-three series.
Despite their scoring prowess, Giles said Ohio State is not as skilled on the other end of the ice—something Wisconsin will try to exploit.
""They're not the most defensive players,"" she said. ""They're not going to be the first ones back in their zone for sure, so we've got to think about that.""
Giles has been the Badgers' biggest contributor in the past few games. Heading into Wisconsin's matchup with Minnesota State on Senior Day, Feb. 14, Giles had scored six goals all season, but in the three games since, she has scored five.
Another senior, goaltender Alannah McCready, could see starting time in the series, which would likely be her and Giles' last if the Badgers do not win. DeKeyser did not say if she would start McCready against Ohio State, though she has started each of Wisconsin's last three games.
Wisconsin will face off against Ohio State Friday and Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Eagle's Nest in Verona in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, with the teams meeting once more Sunday if necessary.