Wisconsin women's hockey displayed perfect mix of youth, experience during championship season
MADISON – The Wisconsin women’s hockey proved it was the best team in the nation while showing that it is possible to be two things at once.
With five fifth-year seniors, the Badgers relied on a wealth of experience that can only come from being part of two previous championship runs.
But if you paid any attention to the Frozen Four, the skill of its youngest talent was undeniable. Three of the five Badgers on the all-tournament team were first-year players.
Young and experienced? The seeming contradiction produced a team that won its seventh national championship while providing great promise for the future.
“I think the next couple of years it’s going to be cool to see these players grow," senior captain Britta Curl said. “They just helped us win a national championship. It’s something I did as a freshman and that is just a great way to start your career.
“It’s a good start because you’re more hungry when you come back for the offseason. Once you get that taste you don’t want to be on the other side of it.”
Caroline Harvey, rest of freshmen class produced in crunch time
In 2019, Curl along with fellow fifth-year seniors Nicole LaMantia, Sophie Shirley, Cami Kronish and Natalie Buchbinder were freshmen on the Badgers' fifth national championship team.
This year it was freshmen Caroline Harvey, Kirsten Simms, Laila Edwards, Vivian Jungels and Claire Enright making their mark.
Each of those freshmen earned WCHA freshman of the week recognition at some point this season. Harvey, Edwards and Simms made the league's all-rookie team with Harvey earning rookie of the year distinction. Harvey later earned All-American distinction from the American Hockey Coaches Association, just the second Badgers freshman to receive the honor.
In the postseason the group didn’t crumble under the weight of the expectations their regular season success created.
In the national semifinal against Minnesota, Edwards got the Badgers on the scoreboard in the third period and Harvey scored the game-winner in the overtime. In the title game, Enright assisted Simms on the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Ohio State. Jungels, meanwhile, teamed with Harvey on the Badgers’ second blueline that held down two of the nation's most explosive teams.
When it came time for the all-tournament team at the Frozen Four, three of UW’s five spots went to freshmen: Harvey, Simms and Edwards.
They earned the honor while going against veteran teams that were older than the typical year due to the number of COVID year players on both rosters.
“They were playing against the best teams in the country and logging a lot of minutes and doing very well,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said. “I’m excited for them because they trusted us and they stayed true to what we needed to do as far as developing individually and as a team. They kept working and they kept getting better and they go rewarded at the end for doing that.”
Decorated Wisconsin fifth-year seniors left mark on ice, record book
The freshmen had a strong set of role models in their fifth-year seniors, which also included graduate transfer, Jesse Compher, a 2022 Olympian who played at Boston University.
Here are some of the accolades they accomplished before leaving the building.
Shirley finished in the top 10 in program history in scoring (seventh, 189 points), goals (eighth, 81) and assists (ninth, 108). She also shares the program record of 177 games played.
In addition to sharing the games-played record with Shirley, LaMantia is only one of four defenders in program history with at least 100 points. She finished with 106 for her career and her 12 goals this season tied for the fifth most for a defender.
Buchbinder had five multi-point games this year before suffering a season-ending leg injury in January.
And of course, there is Kronish. She redshirted as a freshman and then spent the next three years as a backup before emerging the starter this season and most outstanding player of the Frozen Four.
Curl, while part of the group, has one year of eligibility remaining, yet another reason why the Badgers are on solid ground despite losing one of its more decorated senior classes.
As Curl noted, the thirst for more is there.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen this season and to have a national championship under our belt in the first year is pretty incredible, but we obviously aren’t done yet,” Harvey said. “We want many more to come. I think the first thing we said after the game was ‘We want three more. Not even three more but four more, five more, six more for the girls who follow us in the years to come.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin women's hockey won NCAA title with mix of youth, experience