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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, April 12, 2024
Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson's unit will begin it's quest to bring home the program's fifth national title this weekend against Robert Morris. 

Monday press conference: Granato, Johnson preview big weekends for both hockey squads

Men’s Hockey

As the season comes to an end, post-season anticipation rises for the Badgers. Wisconsin split their series against the No. 11 Nittany Lions in “Hockey Valley,” winning a nail-biter Friday, followed by a disappointing Penn State shutout Saturday.

Coach Tony Granato acknowledged Penn State’s explosive offense and was satisfied with his team’s performance. After reflecting on Saturday’s 6-0 shutout, he highlighted the Badger’s rise in the rankings.

“We’ve been climbing all year, and that’s a positive thing. And if we continue to climb one more weekend we will be in really good shape,” Granato said.

Granato also said he’s proud of the progress his team has made. He recognized important teammates with leadership skills who create an impact on the ice.

According to Granato, sophomore captain Luke Kunin’s shot-blocking ability is the epitome of what it means to be a true Badger.

“The goal production and how hard he competes and the big goals that he scored for our team certainly puts him in any argument with any other players in our conference as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

After forward Trent Frederic suffered a lower body injury in Friday’s winning effort, his ability to play as a freshman amazed Granato.

Frederic was awarded the HCA National Rookie of the Month, leading the nation’s freshmen in points and tied for the lead in goals during February.

Next, the No. 16 Badgers face off against No. 15 Ohio State in the Kohl Center this weekend. Wisconsin defeated the Buckeyes in a two-game series earlier this season and Granato feels ready for the Buckeyes explosive offense, having already seen their dynamic players.

“They got a lot of pride … we’ll have to be really ready and respect the fact that we will have to be the best we can,” he said.

Anticipating the final series of the regular season, Granato has set aside the rankings to focus on the challenges of winning the next game.

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“We haven’t made a deal of it all year because our focus has been giving ourselves a chance to improve each and every weekend,” Granato said, “If we continue to grow as a team, develop, and get better than the rest of the teams, we will have a really good chance to get in the tournament.”

Granato knows this weekend will be a rollercoaster of emotions, not only recognizing the seniors, but also honoring former head coach Jeff Sauer, who died last month of pancreatic cancer.

“He gave us the opportunity to grow and develop, as a player, person and student. He gave us that environment and told us to do that,” Granato said.

As a former player under Sauer, Granato aspires for the program to reflect the same culture he was once part of.

“I want our players to feel the same impact he had on me, our players, our program, having our players back like Jeff had ours is the same type of culture and room that I want to have here.”

Women’s Hockey

Holding a No. 1 spot in the in the national polls since the preseason, the Badgers won the WCHA Final Face-Off title in Minneapolis, defeating North Dakota in the semifinals, and escaping with a win thanks to a three-goal flurry in the final period against No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth.

Head coach Mark Johnson was proud of the team’s work, arguing that team members played their best game on the ice in Sunday’s game. He highlighted captain Sydney McKibbon’s athleticism and her ability to score against Minnesota-Duluth.

“She’s elevating under the pressure, understanding what’s at stake and doing what she needed to do to lead the team,” Johnson said.

In Sunday’s game, junior forward Annie Pankowski scored twice in the third period. She leads the NCAA with an average of 0.73 goals per game and the Badgers head into the postseason with the most goals in the country.

Carrying a 20-game undefeated winning streak, the Badgers knew the conference title was not an easy trophy to win. While Johnson saw adversity in this year’s team, he noticed improvement in the last three seasons, recognizing consistency and focus as part of the learning process.

Back-to-back WCHA champions, the Badgers are excited to get back on the ice, hoping to proceed to the Frozen Four.

This Saturday, the puck will drop in LaBahn Arena where the Badgers will face No. 8 and College Hockey America conference champion Robert Morris in their first round in the NCAA Tournament. Although Johnson honored their advanced performance, he is focusing on their tendencies and how the Badger can bring their “A-game” on the ice.

Not only is the opening face-off of the tournament an obviously huge game for UW, but Johnson, a former UW player, will celebrate the 1977 championship team with his former teammates this weekend. 

He recalled the 1977 championship game relating his experience to the energy of the conference title game Sunday.

“It was similar to what I saw yesterday where at the end of the game and that puck goes in, everybody’s throwing their gloves, it was a good time…it was a special team,” Johnson said.

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