Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson, though his ties with USA Hockey, has worked throughout his career to grow the game of women's hockey.
In his role at Wisconsin, he's taken the Badgers to play games in Fort Myers, Florida, Lakewood, California (near Los Angeles) and Vail, Colorado -- all cities without a collegiate women's program. This weekend, the Badgers will take on Providence College in San Jose.
Taking the game on the road to areas not traditionally known for women's hockey exposes young girls to the opportunities for them after youth hockey.
"Similar to our trips to Fort Meyers, Lakewood and Vail, there will be a lot of young ladies and a lot of people that haven't seen a Division I game, so it is an opportunity to help grow our sport. We will put a clinic on to help those young ladies not only see what Division I hockey looks like, but get a chance to go on the ice with our players," coach Johnson told UWBadgers.com.
Former Badger and teammate of Johnson's, Rod Romanchuk, is a driving force behind the San Jose Jr. Sharks girls program. His daughter Lexi plays at Providence. Thus the idea of Wisconsin and Providence in San Jose was born.
Badger Molly Doner played a few years in the Jr. Sharks program, as did Lexi Romanchuk. That personal, local connection makes it even easier for young girls to see their future on the ice. Reigning Rookie of the Year Badger Annie Pankowksi is from Laguna Hills, in the LA area. She grew up playing roller hockey before excelling on the ice.
In addition to the games, both teams will join together to have a youth clinic on Sunday before the teams return to their campuses. They will also had open practices on Thursday.
Wisconsin and Providence have not faced off since 2009. The games will be available to watch on a live stream at a cost of $9.99 per game. The puck drops at 9 pm central time on Friday night and 5 pm central time on Saturday afternoon.