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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Monday, August 15, 2022
Brittany Ammerman

Brittany Ammerman is set to star on a loaded team that might finally take down Minnesota.

Women's Hockey: Badgers begin season ranked next to the top

Coming off their seventh Frozen Four appearance in program history, head coach Mark Johnson and the Wisconsin Badgers are eyeing their first national championship since 2011.

The Badgers, who open up the season in Missouri this weekend against the Lindenwood Lady Lions, are ranked second in the USCHO.com Division I preseason poll, behind only rival Minnesota. This marks the 10th time in the last 11 seasons that they’ve been ranked in the preseason top five.

Wisconsin has dropped its last 11 games against the Gophers, but the Badgers are hopeful that this is the year they reclaim their spot on top of the WCHA. Considering how many players are returning from last season’s team, this goal certainly isn’t far-fetched.

UW is bringing back 18 letterwinners that made up for 86 percent of the team’s scoring last season. This includes redshirt senior Brittany Ammerman, who led Wisconsin with 23 goals and 44 points during the 2013-’14 season. Ammerman will likely be a contender for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the country’s top female hockey player.

Other returnees include senior forwards Blayre Turnbull (the team’s new captain), Karley Sylvester and Katy Josephs, along with senior defender Katarina Zgraja, sophomore forward Sarah Nurse, sophomore defender Mellissa Channell, junior defender Courtney Burke and sophomore forward Sydney McKibbon.

Turnbull, Nurse and Josephs all joined Ammerman as double-digit goal scorers last year.

“I think leadership in our business is extremely important, and I’m very excited about Blayre Turnbull as our captain this year, and Karley Sylvester and Katarina Zgraja as assistant captains,” Johnson said. “They’ve learned from some of our past captains, and I think they’ll do a great job of providing leadership with this team this year.”

While the Badgers have plenty of experienced players returning to anchor the team, they also will have several new players that could make their presences known, including freshman forwards Annie Pankowski, Baylee Wellhausen and Emily Clark, plus freshman defenders Maddie Rolfes and Lauren Williams. Junior Megan Miller is also new to UW, having transferred from Boston College after two years.

All of these new faces have a chance to make an impact for Wisconsin, but it’s Pankowski that is generating the most excitement around Madison. In fact, she was recently voted as the WCHA Preseason Rookie of the Year by the league’s coaches.

“The big thing for (Pankowski) is to try to get off to a good start here this weekend, try to build some confidence and continue,” Johnson said. “The nice thing is she’s got a pretty good supporting cast that will be able to help her.”

The most significant departure from last year’s team was goaltender and team captain Alex Rigsby, the winningest netminder in program history.

Replacing her between the pipes will be sophomore goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens, who saw time as the starter last season when Rigsby was out with an injury.

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Desbiens started 11 games and played in 12 contests total for Wisconsin during the 2013-14 campaign, during which she was outstanding. Desbiens went 11-1 and posted a 1.06 goals against average and a .957 save percentage.

The unexpected playing time she got last year could very well help ease the transition for her from backup to full-time starter.

“I think it helped out,” Johnson said. “I mean, last year as we started the season, we didn’t know how much playing time she would get, but obviously that game up in Duluth where Alex got hurt and she jumped right in and ended up winning and played the next 10 games certainly helped her.”

It would appear that all the pieces are in place for the Badgers to make a run for their fifth national title. Whether or not they will remains to be seen, but it certainly helps that they have so many leaders returning from last season’s team.

“We’ve got a lot of good pieces starting with our goaltender Ann-Renée,” Johnson said. “We’ve got some seniors that have been around, they’ve tasted the Frozen Four. I think those pieces will certainly help as we move forward in the season.”

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