Seniors sent off as victors in fitting end to UW playing career

first_imgThe University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team concluded their 2008-09 regular season campaign with a pair of convincing wins over Bemidji State this weekend and fans and teammates applauded the Badger seniors as they played their final game at the Kohl Center. Coach Mark Johnson’s seniors are a heterogeneous group, with representation from perennial hockey hotbeds Canada, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Wisconsin.Accumulating a nation-leading record of 128-16-13 in four years, the Badger seniors have, collectively, been integral contributors to the program.Junior forward Jasmine Giles said the departure of this year’s class is especially difficult.“This has been the hardest class to watch graduate because I’ve been with them the longest. I have been with them for three years, so it is pretty emotional,” Giles said.Up front, Wisconsin hockey fans are watching the final campaign for forwards Kayla Hagen (Crosslake, Minn.), Angie Keseley (St. Louis Park, Minn.) and Erika Lawler (Fitchburg, Mass.). Keseley won WCHA Defensive Player of the Year the week of Jan. 28 at Saint Cloud State when she notched five assists during her collegiate debut at defense. Keseley, whose versatility and consistency have made her a necessary on coach Johnson’s top two lines since her freshman year, has benefited greatly from four years on the same line as Lawler, the team’s captain and emotional leader.Lawler is a fan favorite who leads the nation in assists. Following the Badger’s 5-2 win over Bemidji State Saturday, Lawler said that her statistical success — success that Lawler notes is nourished by talented linemates Keseley and sophomore Hilary Knight — is not, in itself, a fair indication of achievement.“Points are just bonuses; they usually aren’t a fair indicator of how well someone plays. I’m lucky, I play on a line with two great linemates. Luckily, we could produce on the scoreboard,” an emotional Lawler said following her last game at the Kohl Center.As Lawler noted, statistical triumph often undermines the drudgework so essential in a unified, cohesive hockey team.Fellow senior forward Kayla Hagan is a strong manifestation of Lawler’s claim. Though she may lack the statistical achievement so palpable in Lawler and Keseley, Hagen’s dependability at both wing and center provides a battle-tested and capable alternative should a top-nine forward need replacement. Hagen has earned the reputation as a timely goal-scorer, as evidenced in her game-winner last year at then-No. 3 UMD and a two-goal performance as a sophomore against archrivals Minnesota.With regards to the blue line, graduation will leave the 2009-10 Badger’s to deal with the glaring absence left by a pair of four-year letter winners and defensive staples. Often paired as Johnson’s top duo, seniors Rachel Bible (Black River Falls, Wis.) and Alycia Matthews (Castlegar, British Columbia) have been instrumental forces in maintaining Wisconsin’s national-best 1.34 goals against average.Bible earned Academic All-Big Ten as a junior, and was the Badgers’ plus/minus leader at a healthy plus-30 during Wisconsin’s 2007-08 season. Matthews led Badger defenseman in scoring a year ago with four goals and 20 assists, and is on track to repeat the feat this year as her 19 points lead all Wisconsin blue-liners. Matthews’ unshakable play in her own end is often overshadowed by her offensive contributions, especially the Canadian’s contribution as a left-handed pivot on the Badgers’ lethal power play.The final senior for Wisconsin is star goaltender Jessie Vetter. Vetter’s departure will mark the end of an incredible four-year career and leave Badger fans with unfamiliar goaltending questions at the onset of the 2009-10 season. Vetter commented on her time as a Badger following Saturday’s win.“It’s definitely a very special thing to be part of the Wisconsin teams the last three, four years now. Hopefully, we can keep that going into the postseason,” Vetter said.Manning the pipes for a whopping 111 games, Vetter — who has pocketed both All-American and All-WCHA honors — will leave her Wisconsin women’s hockey career with a pair of national championships, an NCAA-record 35 career shutouts and the reputation as a trusted competitor on both the collegiate and international level. Vetter’s calm temperament and impeccable positioning between the iron the last four years both in WCHA play and abroad as a member of Team USA has cemented her status as one of the best female goalies in the world.Without question, postseason success is the primary focus for Wisconsin as the No. 2 Badgers prepare to win a third national championship in four years and Johnson hopes the Badgers can provide a proper encore for its seniors.last_img