Wisconsin eyes Mercyhurst without WCHA tournament title

first_imgOnce again, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team (31-4-2, 23-3-2) has put itself in solid position to return to the Frozen Four for the second consecutive season. The top-seeded Badgers will be in familiar territory Saturday as they host Mercyhurst College (23-7-3, 8-1-3) in a quarterfinal matchup at the Kohl Center.Despite a tough loss to Minnesota-Duluth Friday night in the WCHA Conference Championship, head coach Mark Johnson said he has little concern about where his team stands. Johnson discussed the lessons that can be learned from this loss and how it will help going into the NCAA tournament quarterfinals against Mercyhurst at his Monday press conference.“I don’t have any concerns about this team compared to past teams,” Johnson said. “The important part is how we react to Friday night’s loss. Every game teaches you something, and we must learn from it. Whether you win or lose, you wake up and look at what you did well or what you need to improve on. We didn’t play the best game, but you take it and move on.”It’s an exciting time of the season, as the Badgers sit just a single victory away from a trip to the Frozen Four. Wisconsin will have the chance to prepare for a full week and build the focus that will be critical this weekend, as every game from this point on could be the team’s last.The single-game elimination format poses a challenge to any team hoping to make a Frozen Four run, but the Badgers have played well in games like this before and understand the preparation that goes into a big matchup. With that said, they remain excited about the opportunity to play in front of their home crowd.“As a staff and team, we are excited about hosting a quarterfinal game and look forward to the game on Saturday,” Johnson said. “We get an opportunity to have a full week’s worth of preparation at the Kohl Center. We are in a good position, and it’s time to get to work for Saturday’s game.”Securing home ice should be a major advantage for the Badgers, as they have only lost two games this season in Madison. The Kohl Center is a hostile environment and will likely pose a challenge itself for Mercyhurst.Despite being one of the most successful programs in the tournament, historically, the Badgers are not taking Mercyhurst lightly, as the Lakers have won four out of their last six games. UW’s opponent just came off a tough loss against Robert Morris University and is looking for a spark heading into the game.“I don’t know much about Mercyhurst,” Johnson said. “Anyone is capable of winning, and the team that executes is the one who should win. I’m looking forward to the preparation and challenge. It will be nice to have the crowd behind us, which usually generates some excitement and energy. For a student-athlete, players tend to feed off of that.”Sophomore goaltender Alex Rigsby was a major subject of the press conference, as Mark Johnson spoke at length about her play. The Badgers’ record stands at 31-4-2 when Rigsby has been in the net for Wisconsin, and on the season Rigsby has 973 saves and a .952 save percentage.Rigsby has made huge contributions to a team that finished the regular season with 29 victories, and her effort this season has appeared to reignite the Badgers’ play. Wisconsin will need a big effort from her as it looks to knock off Mercyhurst. “Alex is starting to understand that patience is a vital part to being a goaltender,” Johnson said. “She learned a lot last year and looks comfortable. She has gained a lot of confidence.”The Badgers will be ready to compete Saturday night as they look to pursue their second consecutive national championship.In a tough playoff, single game elimination environment, the team that executes in crucial parts of the game and avoids small but costly mistakes will likely emerge victorious. The Badgers will look to gain significant momentum with the crowd behind them, as this is the final stretch for a Wisconsin team that has played at a high level all season.“The first leg of the season went well by winning the conference championship,” Johnson said. “The last two weeks haven’t gone as well, but we are alive and still playing.”last_img

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