Maybe the Badgers don’t need a captain.
Going into the season, there was speculation about whether or not the Badgers would name a captain after Brenna Murphy’s graduation. The summer passed and there was no announcement, the Badgers played their preseason schedule and still not a single letter to be seen. The first game, the second game and now the third and fourth games of the regular season have been played, all without captains.
They’ve made it clear, they’re not rushing to sew a letter onto anyone’s jersey. And with the way they’ve been playing — there might not be any reason to.
The veterans on the team exude leadership, whether that be the way the encourage the rookies, or interact with young fans.
The first year players have been impressive. There has not been a single game so far where they haven’t contributed in a meaningful way. The Badgers have 12 goals in four games, with seven of those goals having come from new players.
“Any time you can bring in first year players that can impact and play you’re going to do well down the pipe. Maybe not right away but they’ve stepped in and really have just taken charge and are playing with so much confidence, passion and pride. It’s really lovely to see. They’re only going to get better,” said head coach Margot Page.
The rookies have seemingly bypassed the transitional period that freshmen often face early in their university careers. Page gives the older players credit for that. The rookies are undoubtedly talented in their own right but the confidence they’re playing with doesn’t happen without players who have been in the league and who have been in their shoes, helping them and pushing them to be their best.
If this structure of leadership is working for the Badgers, why change it?
“If we go without a letter because our leadership is great with our veteran players we will do that because everybody’s stepping up. Everybody’s playing a role,” said Page.
The results speak for themselves. They held their own against Queen’s, forcing the game to a shootout which they ultimately lost, resulting in the final score of 4-3. The next night they played the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks (formerly the UOIT Ridgebacks) and came out on top with a 4-3 win.
When the Badgers announced their starting lineup for the Queen’s game, first-years, Mishayla Christensen and Emma Irwin formed the first line alongside fourth-year player, Annie Berg. Avery Vickers slotted in alongside junior Kaitlyn Colonna to form one of the Badgers top defense pairings.
The Badgers coaching staff are putting a lot of trust in their rookies, and with good reason.
“They’re the same group of young players that are staying on the ice and working on whatever they can work on. We go about an hour and then we give them about thirty minutes [extra time] and then we have to kick those young ones off the ice. They just earn it,” said Page.
Goaltending has always been a strength for the Badgers. Jensen Murphy is consistently one of the best goaltenders in the OUA. She finished last season with a .944 save percentage and made 807 saves over the course of the regular season. She started in net for the Badgers the majority of the time last season and perhaps to their detriment, particularly during the playoffs when there weren’t as many days to recover between games.
Fellow goaltender Julia Petella was out last season after shoulder surgery. She started the Ontario Tech game after not having played a full, regular season game in over a year.
“It was so nice to see and I was so excited for her, and to see her on the ice and be able to play but then also get the win. She worked hard for that. She obviously bobbled some stuff and that but, boy, she just worked so hard,” said Page.
With Petella as a feasible option in net, the Badgers will be able to rest Murphy in back to back situations. Last season, she made it clear that she can handle solo goaltending duties, but now she doesn’t have to.
Maybe the Badgers needed these new faces to invigorate them. The veterans are making the rookies better, yes, but the rookies are also making the veterans better. They bring something new to the team, a challenge for the returning players. Match their enthusiasm, match their work ethic and so on.
The Badgers added a new face behind the bench this season. Josh Mallory is the head of analytics for the team and starting this season, assistant coach.
“[He allows us to] stay current with the game, challenge us to try and match his passion and work ethic in the game. He’s unbelievable. He’s been a blessing,” said Page.
Just like the first year players, he has something to prove in his first season.
“When we’re talking about all that extra hard work by the first-year players, [Mallory] works extra hard with all those players as well. He’s been outstanding,” said Page.
The Badgers currently own a 2-0-2 and have yet to lose in regulation. They will host the York Lions on Halloween at the Seymour-Hannah Centre at 7:15 p.m.