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Badgers skate past Gophers in front of record crowd

January 29, 2011 Comments off

Photo by David Stluka

Photo by David Stluka

MADISON, Wis. — It was far from the most graceful move of the night, but Hilary Knight’s celebration following her first period goal Saturday night said it all.

After finding the back of the net just 47 seconds in, Knight “went for it,” doing her best Alexander Ovechkin impression by jumping into the glass behind the goal, before quickly falling to the ice. Knight’s goal, and enthusiastic celebration, electrified the NCAA record crowd of 10,668 at the Kohl Center, setting the tone for top-ranked Wisconsin’s 3-1 win over No. 4 Minnesota.

“We definitely feed off their energy and we’re fortunate to have them,” Knight said. “I fell and made it an interesting celebration, but it was an incredible feeling. You don’t score in front of 10,000 people that often.”

The impressive crowd easily beat out two previous record crowds from the 2009 season. The previous women’s hockey Kohl Center record of 6,085 was set last January when the Badgers hosted Team USA for an exhibition, and the previous NCAA record was 8,263 set last February when Wisconsin defeated Bemidji State, 6-1, to kick off the Camp Randall Hockey Classic.

Having played for Team USA in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Knight and team captain Meghan Duggan are no strangers to large crowds. But to see the largest crowd in NCAA women’s hockey history in their home arena for a game against their border rivals certainly was a special feeling.

“It’s incredible,” Duggan said. “I just got the goosebumps actually thinking about it.

“It creates a great atmosphere in the building and really gets us going for the game. It helped out a lot tonight, I think.”

After Knight’s goal kicked things off less than a minute into the game, linemate Brianna Decker tallied one of the more impressive goals you’ll see. It just so happened to also be the game-winner.

With the Gophers on a power play, Decker got in front of a shot, took the puck on a breakaway, and put it past Minnesota goaltender Noora Raty for the goal.

On a night when the Badgers were boosted by the sheer number of people in attendance, it was Decker’s shorthanded goal that clinched the victory.

“You start with great momentum because of the atmosphere, and that certainly added to it,” Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson said. “There’s not many games, this being the first one, where they have over 10,000 people watching women’s hockey. We put on a performance for them and came away with a victory.”

Minnesota cut the lead to 2-1 with a shorthanded goal of its own in the second period, when Becky Kortum took the puck away from the Badgers and bounced the puck off the pads of netminder Alex Rigsby and into the net.

Seven minutes later, Carolyne Prevost skated through a pair of defenders and went five hole on Raty to give Wisconsin its two-goal lead back at 3-1.

While that would be the game’s final tally, Minnesota never stopped fighting, giving Wisconsin a battle all the way to the final horn. The Badgers, who maintained their crowd-fueled energy throughout as well, appeared to have sealed it with an empty-netter in the final minutes, but it was negated by an offside call.

The huge crowd erupted as the puck hit the net, and while one of its loudest cheers of the night was for naught, the energy of the 10,668 in attendance helped Wisconsin maintain its energy throughout a tough, physical battle with Minnesota.

For Wisconsin, the timing of the “Fill The Bowl” event could not have been better, either. After taking two points with a shootout win Friday night, the Badgers led by 13 points in the WCHA standings over the second-place Gophers.

With the win Saturday night, UW increased its lead to 16 points, all but clinching the WCHA regular season title. With six games remaining on the schedule, Wisconsin sits just two points from its third WCHA conference championship and its first since the 2006-07 season.

“These five points this weekend is huge for us, but we’ve got to finish off the rest of the season,” Duggan said. “We can’t slow up, let the foot off the gas pedal. We’ve just got to press it down, keep going, and bring ourselves into the playoffs.”

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Column 3/8

March 8, 2010 Comments off

Knight, Duggan ready for more after Vancouver

By Jordan Schelling    The Badger Herald

UW makes smart choices with Geoffrion

March 5, 2010 Comments off

Two weeks ago, Wisconsin senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion suffered a vicious blow to the head that resulted in a concussion during the Badgers’ 7-4 victory over St. Cloud State.

That hit, delivered by Huskies center Aaron Marvin, resulted in a three-game suspension for Marvin handed down by the WCHA. That will keep him out of the Huskies’ final series this weekend and SCSU’s first playoff game next week.

For Geoffrion, the concussion meant the Brentwood, Tenn., native did not make the trip to Houghton, Mich., last week for the Badgers’ series against Michigan Tech. The decision to keep Geoffrion out an entire week following the hit likely was not popular with UW fans.

But it was the right one.

Too often in the past have athletes at every level returned too early from head injuries. Doing so puts such athletes at a greater risk of further injury from any additional contact. And while one concussion is bad enough, any additional concussions can lead to serious permanent damage. Just ask any professional athlete who has retired from head injuries.

Keeping Geoffrion out was a sign of smart decision-making by the UW men’s hockey team.

Wisconsin’s senior forward is far more important to their team in March than he would have been last week against Michigan Tech. So, by giving him a full week to recover from “getting his bell rung,” the UW coaching staff made a great decision for their future.

While Geoffrion likely would have wanted to return as soon as possible, taking it slow was the best choice. The last thing the Badgers need is to lose their top Hobey Baker Award winner for the entire season because he returned too soon.

Besides, why not keep him out a little longer to give a spark to the Badgers’ season finale series against the Gophers in Minnesota?

Baggot’s criticisms of Alvarez surprising, commendable

It’s not often I’m overly impressed by journalism within the state of Wisconsin. For the most part, in my experience, news coverage in this state gets the job done, but does little to wow its readers or viewers.

With that, I think it’s important to note I was particularly impressed with the efforts of one local writer this week: Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal. I’ve always thought of Baggot as one of the best reporters along which I’ve had the privilege of working. His columns, on the other hand, sometimes leave something to be desired.

Which brings me to this week. Baggot’s column about Barry Alvarez and the UW Athletic Department’s inability to raise sufficient funds for a hockey practice facility was one of the best I’ve read recently. Not only by Baggot, but by anyone in the area.

First, Baggot’s strong suit (reporting) is well showcased in the piece. He uses good statistics, applicable quotes from Alvarez and others, and reports on something he knew was likely to be announced the next day. While many others may have waited — by choice or necessity — to write a similar piece after the announcement of the delay, Baggot knew enough about the situation to write it beforehand.

What Baggot did was to essentially announce the project delay before the UW even did so.

At the same time, and more importantly, Baggot did not hold back. His column could have just been about how it was disappointing to see the project delay, and express an opinion on how important the facility was to Badger hockey. Such a column would be good, but not really anything groundbreaking.

Instead, Baggot chose to criticize Alvarez for his lack of ability in bringing in money for such projects. With the power of Alvarez and others within the UW Athletic Department to shut out any media member from sporting events, you definitely have to pick your battles. For many, attacking Alvarez would not be a battle worth fighting.

But because Baggot had sufficient information and certainly felt strongly about the situation, he made his opinion known. And his main point was a good one, too.

“If you want people to donate large sums of money to a cause, you don’t embarrass them. You woo them.”

Hopefully, if Alvarez is even the least bit embarrassed by the column it will have a positive effect on future donation recruiting efforts within the UW Athletic Department.

Even if it doesn’t, it’s a column that certainly was worth writing for Baggot. And if you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth reading for anyone who cares even slightly about the Badgers.

Discussing concussions with Andy Hrodey

March 2, 2010 Comments off

As senior forward Blake Geoffrion laid on the ice, Wisconsin held a slim 2-1 lead over St. Cloud State in the second period of their Feb. 20 matchup at the Kohl Center.

Seconds earlier, Geoffrion had suffered a vicious blow to the head delivered by Huskies center Aaron Marvin.

One of three captains for the UW men’s hockey team, Geoffrion was helped off the ice and to the locker room following the hit and would not return. It was later determined the Brentwood, Tenn., native had sustained a concussion as a result of the hit.

In the week following his concussion, Geoffrion did not practice. He also stayed on campus while the rest of the team traveled to Houghton, Mich., for the Michigan Tech series.

In light of Geoffrion’s concussion, I talked with assistant athletic trainer Andy Hrodey to discuss the concussion policies within the UW Athletic Department.

Jordan Schelling: What kind of procedures does the UW men’s hockey team follow in terms of concussion prevention and treatment?

Andy Hrodey: There’s a computer program called ImPACT that we use to test brain function. It’s a variety of things from reaction time to memory to recognition of different words and symbols and stuff. It basically just gets a baseline of what their brain functions like; so, if they ever do have a concussion, we’re able to use that as another way to tell where they’re at in that recovery process after a concussion occurs.

JS: Can using such a program do anything to help prevent another concussion from occurring in the near future after a player sustains a concussion?

AH: It’s not really about preventing. It’s really just another tool we have to measure whether or not somebody’s recovered from a concussion or not. … It just really helps us tell when they’re getting back to normal so we can let them get back to exercise and activity.

JS: So what it could do then it to keep them from going back too soon?

AH: Exactly. It’s not the only thing we do — we also use what their symptoms are like, what their history is and just what they’re feeling. But [the ImPACT test] is something we can use to say, ‘Look, your brain is here, we can let you go do some things;’ or if they don’t score as well, it’s something that allows us to say, ‘Look, you’re not quite back to normal yet.’

JS: How long has the Athletic Department been using the ImPACT baseline testing system?

AH: It’s been probably nine or 10 years now. It’s evolved a little bit, but it’s been quite a few years now.

JS: Before this system, what did you do for treating and diagnosing concussions?

AH: We’ve always worked closely with our physicians from just kind of a symptom standpoint of what the athlete’s feeling. We also use pen and paper tests… just basic little things that would test your brain. … But this computer system is nice because we get a baseline right when they come in (as freshmen), and it’s easy to administer. We could even do it on the road because it’s on the Internet.

JS: Before using the computerized test, did you ever do anything before the season began?

AH: No, no not really, no. Other than taking their history and stuff, really, no. It wasn’t like a baseline and then having this retest thing prior to the computer. That’s new with that.

JS: Does every player take the baseline test prior to every season?

AH: No, no, just as a freshman they take that.

JS: And that one test is adequate for the entire four or five year careers of the players?

AH: Yeah, it’s such a basic thing that we don’t feel like there’s any way that they change over the years. For some reason if we thought they did or we thought something was wrong with that first one, then we could have them redo it when they’re feeling normal basically. But really, we feel like that one time as a freshman as they’re coming in is a pretty good idea of what their normal is, which is different for everybody.

JS: So, without seeing the actual test, could you describe the difference between a normal test and someone who just suffered a concussion?

AH: What it is, it’s a series of tests involving words and numbers that focus on memory and reaction time… After a concussion, your brain doesn’t work as well sometimes — it’s slowed down, so to speak — so in the first one, you may have trouble remembering those words. In the second one, your reaction time may be slowed down.

JS: So the tests are fairly similar to what you did in the past, but now it’s all computerized?

AH: Yeah, exactly. The biggest difference is that we have that baseline. So, we know what their kind of “normal” is on a random day when they’re feeling fine as opposed to after a concussion when they’re a little slowed down.

JS: After a possible concussion, what is that procedure like?

AH: After something that happens either in a game or practice, I evaluate and then our team physician evaluates them, especially if it’s something they had to come out of practice or the game for. … Then we monitor them closely, and in a rare instance, they go to get more tests at a hospital.

But usually we just monitor their symptoms and as long as they keep getting better — the headache, the dizziness, all that stuff starts to go away rather than get worse — it’s just kind of a daily checkup to see where they’re at symptom-wise.

As those decrease, we’re able to let them do a little bit more. Basically, once they have no symptoms, then we can let them exercise a little bit, whether it’s a bike or a workout or something like that. Then when that is OK, we’re able to let them get back to a non-contact situation on the ice before going back to a full practice.

JS: Have you considered anything additional in terms of concussion prevention, such as specialized mouth guards that are said to prevent concussions?

AH: All the guys are fitted for mouth guards, but it’s kind of their decision if they wear them. It’s still kind of controversial whether those prevent an actual concussion from happening. There’s different tests that say they do and there are others that claim to have proven that they do not. Personally, I advocate them because it protects their teeth.

JS: When it comes down to it, is there really anything aside from simply avoiding contact that can truly prevent a concussion?

AH: Yeah, really that’s about it. They’re making newer helmets, I know. We don’t have any of them at this point, they’re still kind of in testing and things like that. So, that helps — having any kind of helmet is going to help a little bit — but in this kind of atmosphere it’s a situational thing.

If there’s contact and there’s that quick deceleration where the brain sloshes around, there’s really no way to prevent it.

Column 3/1

March 1, 2010 Comments off

Silver’s good as gold against Canada, eh?
A Schelling For Your Thoughts
The Badger Herald

Column 2/22

February 21, 2010 Comments off

It was hockey night in Canada, not U.S.
A Schelling For Your Thoughts
The Badger Herald