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Depth, injuries challenged Wisconsin women’s hockey team in first season without trophy since 2014 | Wisconsin Badgers Hockey

A look back years from now will show 2022 as the first Frozen Four without the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team since 2013 and 2021-22 as the first Badgers campaign without a trophy since 2014.

Encapsulating a six-month season into one sentence is never fair but that one seems especially unforgiving considering the nuances of the Badgers’ journey since September.

They started with a roster that never was going to reach a full lineup — only 21 bodies. They lost two players for the season in the opening seven weeks. They had more injury challenges in the second half, forcing position shifts and a shortening of the bench beyond even what coach Mark Johnson normally does.

And those are just the entries that have been shared. The season that ended Saturday afternoon with a 4-2 loss to Northeastern in the final of the NCAA tournament Boston regional wasn’t laid out perfectly for the Badgers from the beginning and it didn’t play out well toward the end.

Northeastern ends Wisconsin's hopes of 3rd straight NCAA women's hockey title

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to play so whether you have three lines or four lines doesn’t really matter,” fifth-year center Brette Pettet said. “Obviously, you don’t want to go through injuries and things like that, but that’s life.

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“We went out there and we gave it our best and I’m proud of the group this year. It’s tough to win every year. And so I’m very happy with my career here and the group of seniors that I’ve come through with.”

The Badgers didn’t help themselves in stretches of the season — against teams both at the top of the women’s hockey pack and those in the middle. It led to their NCAA tournament path being more difficult than it was looking like it would have been in early January.

They went 0-3-1 against Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season champion Minnesota. They lost a pair of games to close the season at Ohio State, which also defeated UW on the way to winning the league playoff title.

UW had won one or both of the WCHA trophies seven years in a row but fell behind the Gophers and the Buckeyes in the second half this season.

UW was 18-1-3 and No. 1 in the PairWise Rankings after a win and a tie against Quinnipiac at the start of January. It went 8-7-1 from there.

A scoreless tie with Bemidji State in November and a draw at St. Cloud State in January were head-scratching results that raised questions about the team’s scoring and contributed to pushing the Badgers into territory where they needed to win two games to make their eighth straight Frozen Four.

That unprecedented experience, brought on by the expansion of the NCAA tournament to 11 teams, was what extinguished the season on Saturday, when Northeastern used two power-play goals to end the Badgers’ season at 26-8-4.

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UW has allowed more than one power-play goal in a game only five times in the last eight years and three of them have ended its season — in 2014 against Minnesota and in 2018 against Colgate, both in the Frozen Four semifinals.

It’s fair to wonder whether the course of the season would have been different with a few more key pieces or fewer injuries. Forwards Britta Curl and Lacey Eden and defenders Natalie Buchbinder and Caroline Harvey were selected for the U.S. Olympic residency camp last offseason and all four missed the college season. Harvey was the only one selected for the Olympic team.

The Badgers were thin at both forward and defense positions without them. The roster size issues were magnified when freshman forward Marianne Picard and senior defender Kendra Nealey, a transfer from Cornell, went out for the season in October and November, respectively, with ACL injuries that required surgery.

Delaney Drake, who initially passed on a chance at a fifth season, returned to the team to plug one hole. Maddie Posick moved from forward to defense for a time to help with the other. Forwards Casey O’Brien, Maddi Wheeler and Sarah Wozniewicz dealt with injuries during the second half of the season.

Jim Polzin: Why Maddie Posick's impact on the UW women's hockey program goes beyond the box score

Johnson said one of the biggest challenges for the coaching staff this season was running practices without wearing out a smaller number of players than normally go through drills.

“As a coach, you can get frustrated or disappointed,” he said. “But my philosophy is I show up, talk to my trainer — who’s available today? — whether it’s practice or the games, and that’s what you deal with. And that’s all you can control.

“So if we’re going to Duluth and we only have 14 players, OK, figure out how we’re going to be successful with that group. Because you can’t use that excuse. Everybody goes through seasons where things don’t go well, you get more injuries than others.”

The Badgers should get Buchbinder, Curl and Eden back on the team next season. Harvey’s freshman campaign was delayed by a year, and UW has Minnesota Ms. Hockey Vivian Jungels among six other players signed to start in the fall.

But it’ll lose a lot of experience in fifth-year forwards Daryl Watts, Caitlin Schneider, Pettet, Posick and Drake; defender Grace Bowlby; and goalie Kennedy Blair.

Watch now: Wisconsin's Watts responds to Northeastern goalie calling her NCAA title-clincher a bad bounce

Johnson called a timeout at the final stoppage in Saturday’s game to get many of them on the ice to wrap up their college careers. All of them have won at least one national title, some two.

He said that all can be proud of their accomplishments at UW. The finality of Saturday’s finish was unrelenting, however.

“The hardest thing is when it’s over and it’s done, we can’t come back Monday and practice,” Johnson said after Saturday’s loss. “And that’s when it’ll hit them again. I mean, they’re disappointed. They’re crying, and rightfully so because it takes a lot of time and commitment. For some of them, they’ve been doing it now five years. And all of a sudden you say, well, you can’t do it next week. We’re not going to do it anymore. You’re done.”

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Northeastern ends Wisconsin's hopes of 3rd straight NCAA women's hockey title

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The Huskies thought they frustrated the Badgers’ offense in a victory that kept UW from its eighth straight Frozen Four.

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