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Women’s hockey: Badger underclassmen usher in new era of dominance

first_imgLast year, University of Wisconsin women’s hockey meshed the old and new with success.Its offense relied heavily on experience and proven ability to lead a young contingent not far behind. Three of UW’s four top scoring spots were occupied by seniors, and the next three to follow were underclassmen.But with the departure of those three top upperclassmen (Karley Sylvester, Brittany Ammerman and Blayre Turnbull), there was no one to fill their roles except the underclassmen.While last year’s offense needed the combination between old and new players, this year’s Badgers have thrown that system out the window and is instead facilitated by mostly underclassmen.Even with the shakeup, the Badgers are rolling this year.Wisconsin is 24-1-1 overall, on top of their No. 2 overall ranking and on pace to surpass last season’s record (29-7-4).Performances from sophomore forwards Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark, as well as supporting roles played by freshmen Sam Cogan and Sophia Shaver have been key to UW’s success this season.Pankowski believes the success of her class, which includes Lauren Williams, Baylee Wellhausen, and Emily Clark on offense, has been an inspiration to this year’s freshmen.“I think that we really came in and pushed the level up a little bit and set a precedent that even though you are a freshman, you can score and you can be an impact player,” Pankowski said.Last season as freshmen, Pankowski and Clark alone combined for 32 goals, and Pankowski was the team’s leading scorer. Their performances sent a message to other younger players on the team.“If you come into this program and if you’re good, and you are going to play a good role, then anyone can come and play that role — it doesn’t matter how old you are,” Clark said.Pankowski agreed this year’s class has been receptive to embracing this idea and shown the results to prove.“I think that [this year’s freshmen] have taken a hold of that mentality and really brought their A game for us,” Pankowski added.This message certainly resonated with freshmen forwards Cogan and Shaver.The two have formed an entirely new offensive threat for the Badgers, as Shaver has netted six goals and three assists alongside Cogan’s six goals and nine assists.While all of these players are talented on their own, playing for UW allows them a unique opportunity.Playing in one of the toughest leagues in women’s collegiate hockey has allowed them to quickly develop their talents by exposing them to some of the best competition.“You’re playing with good players all the time, you’re practicing with and against good players and that is going to make you better in the end,” Cogan said.Whether it’s a normal Badgers’ practice or taking on one of the many powerhouses in the WCHA conference, such as Minnesota or North Dakota, freshmen and sophomores have no choice but to grow up fast.Pankowski reflected on Cogan’s performance against rival No. 3 Minnesota earlier this season, exemplifying this idea.“There is no babying [Cogan] into that, you just get thrown right in,” Pankowski said. “It definitely makes you a better player on the other side.”During that game, Cogan stepped up in a big way by scoring the first goal of the series, as well as accounting for an assist on the second score. The Badgers would go on to win that game 3-2 in overtime.The most central aspect to this year’s underclassmen’s success has been head coach Mark Johnson and his ability to develop and improve these young talents at an accelerated rate.Clark, a sophomore, weighed in on just how much her own game has advanced playing for the Badgers under Johnson.“I think that my offensive abilities have grown a lot,” Clark said. “[Johnson] has taught me a lot about picking spots and thinking about where the goalie is before I’m shooting and to be a little bit more poised with the puck, and confident offensively.”In total, freshmen and sophomores have combined for 50 goals and 71 assists on the year, and there is no sign of slowing down as each player gains more experience with each week.The underclassmen’s most impressive showing this season was their series sweep over Minnesota. It marked the first time Wisconsin had been able to defeat the Gophers in its previous 14 consecutive meetings, something even older players couldn’t achieve.Getting over the hump may serve as a glimpse to what the future holds for this new era of Wisconsin women’s hockey.last_img read more