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Wisconsin women’s hockey: Mark Johnson speaks to the media before season opener on Friday

After a long break the top ranked Badgers will back on the ice against Ohio State this Friday

NCAA HOCKEY: MAR 16 Women’s - Division I Championship - Wisconsin v Colgate Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Monday morning, Wisconsin Badgers head coach Mark Johnson was made available to us via Zoom. The coach discussed some of the key topics of discussion heading into Friday’s season opener against Ohio State, such as game preparation and what he expects from his players this year.

Here are a few highlights from his media availability:

Johnson begun by previewing what the first game of the season against Ohio State will mean to him and his team:

“Obviously, we’re going against a worthy opponent. They’ve already got a couple games in, they played this past weekend up in Minneapolis against Minnesota, and ended up splitting the series. So it’ll be a fun series, I’m anxious for our players to get a chance to play again, and probably most importantly, for all of us to get an understanding of what we look like in a game. We’ve got enough practices to go over a lot of different things. I compliment the players on being very competitive, working hard every day. So I know we’ve made improvements in our practices. Now we have to play some games to find out what we look like, how we play, and we’re gonna have some adversity this weekend. And so it all bodes well for coming back after this upcoming weekend and really starting to make some progress within our group.”

Johnson went on to mention that the group was particularly energetic given the buzz of a new season beginning:

“We don’t normally take the ice at 7 am. And obviously have to get tested prior to that. So they’re up early. But I think the excitement is certainly there. We’ve been practicing for a couple months now. And they’ve been attentive. We get that right now we’re going down to Columbus, obviously, a top five team in the rankings. So we’ll get tested quite a bit in those six periods we play down there. But, you know, that’s how you get better. You’re looking for good solid competition, especially early in the season. Obviously, we’re not going to play 34 games like we normally do. So each game you’ve got to take as an opportunity to improve as a hockey club and move forward. We’ve got eight good games here in the next four weekends against top five teams. Certainly it will improve us as a group, and I know the players will be excited when we fly down to Columbus on Thursday, have a little Thanksgiving dinner, and then game day comes up to us on Friday. And as a coach, I’m excited because we practice, but I want to see what we look like in a game situation. So the best way to do that is to go against a worthy opponent. That’s certainly going to be the case Friday and Saturday down in Columbus.”

The 18-year Badger coach also touched upon the importance of a balanced roster of experienced and young players in these unprecedented times:

“I think every year you rely on those upperclassmen, though some years you might have more than others or you might have a bigger freshman class, but I think with this group, they’ve been through a lot as a team. And then if there’s some adversity, which there will be within the game, you’ve got to react to it. And I think as upperclassmen, they know our mannerisms as a coaching staff, and they understand what’s expected of them. That’s where you have to grow with your freshmen. So when there’s some adversity with either a couple of them, or all of them, or something happens within our group, how are you going to react? They’ll see how we react as a coaching staff, and most important thing is to get ready for the next shift. So if I make a mistake, or I score a goal, am I ready to play the next shift? If we can do that consistently, and be really competitive for 60 minutes, that gives you the best chance to win the hockey game. So it’s going to be a feeling out process. The one thing about Ohio State is they’re going to come at you real fast in a hurry, they play a very aggressive style, they like to forecheck with all five people. So if you’re not ready for that Friday night, when they drop the puck, you’re going to be playing in your end quite a bit.”

Johnson also addressed the goalkeeping position, which is perhaps the biggest question mark on the Badgers roster, with no set starter heading into the season:

“I’m trying to get permission to see if I can play all four at the same time. But that’s not going to happen. So we’ll make that decision Thursday. That’s been my go to thing, wait until the day before the game, and let that individual and the other goalies know where they’re going to be in the pecking order. So we’ll do that Thursday. You know, again, they’re like our other players- they’ve worked hard, and they’ve put themselves in a position to get better here over the last couple of months. And now more so than anybody, the goaltenders have to play, somebody’s got to go in there Friday. We’ll get an opportunity to watch them in action and evaluate the game Friday night. Then we’ll see what we want to do Saturday.”

The Badger alum also spoke about his expectations for Daryl Watts, the preseason WCHA player of the year:

“Well, I hope she builds off her season last year, obviously, you know, she’s had a couple of great seasons at Boston College. She did a lot of great things last year, put up some big numbers and, you know, she’s worked hard. A couple months we’ve been practicing here, and she hasn’t taken a time off to reflect on our previous three seasons. So I’m looking for big things from her, you know if you talk to her she’s looking for big things from her own game too. So, again, similar to other positions, you know, it doesn’t matter what year they are in school, we’re trying to make them better every day, and over the course of a season, trying to improve them. And so hopefully people will see an improved Watts this year compared to what she did last year.”

Johnson closed by discussing the uniqueness of starting a season in a pandemic:

“Well, for me personally, it’s different. Game week presents a lot of new things- now you’ve got a team that you’re going to compete against, you’re able to break down some film of that opponent, you start really honing in on how we want to come out both Friday and Saturday and play in our series. And so practices become a little bit crisper, a little bit more focused in on some details as far as what we need to do to be successful this weekend. And then getting that relayed to the players and having them execute some things on the ice that’ll help us along. It’s been 255 days since, you know, we came in here on a March morning and found out we weren’t going to play our quarterfinal game. So it’s been a long time, but Groundhog Day is now completely done with, knock on wood. And we’ve got game week. So bring it on. Here we go. Lots of fun.”