It’s as if someone stuck a firecracker to the back of everyone’s skates before they jump over the bench. The women’s hockey team is fast and chaotic and there’s nothing particularly graceful about the way they skate. There seems to be an endless energy coming from the team.
The Badgers started the new year playing a rescheduled game against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. They were supposed to play each other before the break but bad weather prevented the Badgers from traveling to Toronto.
They fell to the Blues 4-0 in their first game of 2020.
“I think they should have been ready to go because we came back early and had some really good practices leading into Toronto. We came out flat and Toronto just played really physical, really aggressive and really smart and we didn’t match it,” said head coach Margot Page.
That’s the thing about the way the Badgers play, it’s fast and it’s aggressive but it’s not necessarily accurate; the Badgers missed passes and lost the puck in their skates, especially during their second game of 2020, particularly in the first period.
They played the Windsor Lancers on Saturday night. The Lancers are 2-12 but a better team could have easily capitalized on these errors in the same way the Varsity Blues did the night before.
Avery Vickers scored the first goal of her OUA career on the power play at 18:58 in the first period, putting the Badgers up by one going into the second. Vickers is one of the many freshmen on the team that contributes to the energy. Page trusts her with top defensive pairing duties and she started this game alongside sophomore, Rebekah Feld.
The goal came on the power play, which Page sees as what could be a deciding factor in the playoff race. Indeed, in last year’s first round exit against Guelph, it was the Badgers’ strong penalty kill that kept them fighting for as long as they did.
“I think the power play is so important any time you get into the back half and you get into playoffs. If your special teams are running great then you’re going to be winning a lot and if they’re not, we’re going to have to try to score five on five and that’s fine as well but power play and penalty kills are always going to be really important,” said Page.
The Badgers and the Lancers made similar mistakes in the second but the Badgers had a leg up on the competition when it came to their enthusiasm. There are parts of hockey that can be measured, goals, assists, time on ice, shots on goal, etc. There are parts that can’t and one thing the Badgers always seem to have a surplus of is fun. It’s an intangible that shouldn’t be underestimated.
There is no praise too strong for Jensen Murphy. What she adds to the team in net is undeniable. Despite having played against Toronto the night before, she shut out the Lancers stopping 31 shots. Murphy consistently tops the OUA in saves, making up for the Badgers’ defensive shortcomings. If it weren’t for strong goaltending, the Badgers wouldn’t be able to play the way the do.
“We’ll wait and see what the next game brings but it’s still some inconsistency that we’re fighting and we’re battling so I think right now it’s just a matter of if we can get consistent,” said Page.
While some young teams can have a tendency to waver or lose confidence, the Badgers are still learning, and their work ethic keeps them going.
“Puck management I think is the big thing and execution of what we’re asking the players to do. W we tend to have really good energy and we talked about harnessing that energy in the right direction, not like skating over top of pucks and not reaching for pucks, battling and then losing battles and not gaining blue lines and things like that,” said Page.
If they can get comfortable with these things, if the execution becomes second nature to them, then the playoffs are within reach.
“Harness the energy in the right way. We have to be able to still have that high energy physical play and use our speed but we have to play a lot smarter with the puck and manage the puck a lot better,” said Page.
The Badgers are just holding onto a playoff spot with 23 points and currently sit eighth in the OUA. They will travel to Waterloo this Saturday to take on the 1-8-5 Laurier Golden Hawks