Newcomers are picking up where women’s hockey Badgers left last season off, helping support positions that lost critical players.
In addition to the many skilled players returning under Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey head coach Mark Johnson — who recently recorded his 600th win — there is plenty of new talent to go around.
The Badgers will travel to face the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes on Nov. 17 and 18. This series against Ohio State will be close, considering Wisconsin previously played against Ohio State in the NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey National Championship last season. Wisconsin stole that win with a score of 1-0 and an incredible shutout by Cami Kronish.
Anna Wilgren (defense, Minnesota State 2018-23)
The lineup starts out strong with Anna Wilgren, a graduate student who completed her undergraduate years at Minnesota State, where she served three years as captain for the Mavericks. Wilgren grew up in Hudson and said she was excited to be playing for a team she cheered for as a kid.
Wilgren has 10 assists and 12 blocks in the six games the Badgers have played this season, the most notable being the 5-point assist game against Lindenwood that led to the Badgers’ 16-1 win.
Wilgren has more experience with the Madison scene than just the past few months, though. She skated a season with the Madison Capitols’ Under-19 team and won the 2017 and 2018 Molly Engstrom Award for being the best defender in the state. On Oct. 23, Wilgren was named the WCHA Defender of the Week.
Kelly Gorbatenko (forward, Chicago Mission 2018-22)
Kelly Gorbatenko, like four other players on this list, already has experience skating in the LaBahn Arena. Gorbatenko represented the U.S. in the IIHF’s Under-18 Women’s World Championship, where the team won silver.
Gorbatenko’s strong offense has gained her two goals and five assists so far as a Badger. She delivered on power plays and led the Badger’s to their Oct. 13 victory over Minnesota, making the game head coach Johnson’s 600th win.
In previous seasons, Gorbatenko was recognized as the Preseason WCHA Rookie of the Year, attended the 2021 USA Hockey Women’s National Festival, participated in the 2019 and 2021 USA Hockey Girls Under-18 select player development camp, and won the 2021 USA Hockey Youth Nationals with the Chicago Mission.
Ava Murphy (defense, Oakville Hornets 2019-23)
Freshman Ava Murphy is already making waves as a new defenseman for the Badgers. During the Badgers’ second game against Boston College, Murphy had five shot attempts and the first goal in the third period.
Murphy skated for Canada at the IIHF’s Under-18 Women’s World Championship in 2022 where the team won gold, producing two goals and three assists. She also competed in the 2023 Women’s World Championship, winning gold and posting four assists.
Before a rule change, Murphy was recruited by NCAA programs in Grade 8. She knew she wanted to get to the NCAA and that dream is coming true, she said. When asked about why Wisconsin, Murphy recalled the experience of playing in the LaBahn Arena and being invited for a Badger game against Ohio State.
“When you know, you know, and when I was there, that was the feeling I had,” Murphy told the Waterloo Region Record.
Cassie Hall (forward, Little Caesars 2018-23)
Cassie Hall, a forward from South Lyon, Michigan, has found her place among the Badgers. She recorded four goals during the Badgers’ second game against Lindenwood, becoming one of the only seven Badgers to record four or more goals in a single game and only the second freshman.
Hockey isn’t the only sport Hall is talented in. She had 53 goals and six assists in 17 games during her high school senior year soccer season. This extra skill set increased Hall’s agility, speed and her understanding of team and sportsmanship.
“I couldn’t do it without my teammates. They have the trust in me.” Hall told the Livingston Daily.
Hall was recruited in Grade 8 as well and participated in the Under-18 Women’s National Team. She’s played well at the LaBahn Arena before, and her start to the 2023-24 season shows she’ll continue to do so.
Bella Vasseur (forward, Bishop Kearney Selects 2021-23)
Bella Vasseur is a Wisconsin native hailing from Oregon, located about 20 minutes south of UW-Madison. Several previous Badgers forwards eligibility expired this year, meaning incoming freshman forwards like Vasseur have a lot of opportunity for playing time and experience.
“The energy of the hockey program really caught my attention,” Vasseur said about choosing Wisconsin.
Vasseur skated with Ava McNaughton on Bishop Kearney Selects, where they won two State Championship titles. In both 2021 and 2022, Vasseur participated in the USA Hockey Girls Under-18 Select Camp.
Johnson applauded Vasseur on her work ethic and positive attitude.
“She brings a positive attitude to the rink every day and has great work habits,” Johnson said. “She's creative with the puck, is a playmaker, has a lot of skill and can put the puck in the back of the net.”
Laney Potter (defense, Philadelphia Junior Flyers 2021-23)
Laney Potter, a new defensive player from Pennsylvania, has already made a notable impact on the team. Potter has five assists and 11 blocks in the 10 games the Badgers have played so far.
She’s looking strong defensively, and Johnson said she’s dependable in all three areas.
“Laney brings a solid skill set, is strong and loves being on the ice,” Johnson said.
Under the Philadelphia Flyers, Potter’s offensive game strengthened and she recorded 27 goals in 71 games. Potter represented the U.S. 2022 IIHF’s Under-18 Women’s World Championship, where she had an assist in the gold-medal game. Like many of these other recruits, Potter has attended the USA Hockey Women’s Festival and participated in both the 2019 and 2021 USA Hockey Girls Under-18 Select Player Development Camp.
Potter said UW-Madison’s “unbelievable hockey” environment is the reason she chose to play for the Badgers.
Ava McNaughton (goaltender, Team USA 2022)
A freshmen goaltender from Pennsylvania, Ava McNaughton comes to Wisconsin with a long list of accomplishments.
As a Badger, McNaughton already has one assist, 77 saves and only four goals against. The most impressive accomplishment during the current season is McNaughton’s first career shutout against the Minnesota State Mavericks. McNaughton’s incredible work during this game contributed to Johnson’s 600th win.
This is not McNaughton’s first time in LaBahn. Back in 2022, she competed on Team USA in the IIHF’s Under-18 Women’s World Championship. During their game against Finland, McNaughton had an 11-save shutout, leading to the final score of 5-0 for Team USA.