As the Blugolds women’s hockey team enters their 2012-13 schedule in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association, they look to play tough through an early season schedule that includes two nationally ranked opponents.
Women’s head hockey coach Mike Collins thinks the beginning of the year will test the team.
“It’s just a strong conference,” Collins said.
At the start of team practices in mid-Oct., Collins and the rest of the team have looked at one common goal that stands out the most in their initiative this year.
“The message that we tried to get across was if we work harder for 60 minutes, we are in better shape and we pay attention to detail, we give ourselves a better chance to win,” Collins said. “Skill obviously is always going to have an impact on any game, but if we work harder, longer and more diligently than skilled players that don’t work as hard, we are still going to have a chance to win.
Now, we have some skilled players, but that’s our goal — to continue to be the hardest working team and to try to improve on our basic skills.”
Among that list of skilled players are individuals that Collins said he thinks will stand out as leaders on the team.
“I think we got great captains this year in Casey McMullen, Katie Ward, Allison Malecek, and Nikki Kothenbeutel,” Collins said.
With the list of players including those captains, the team is touting their team chemistry as a way to get over the hump this year. In that regard, Collins said that the team is doing an “outstanding job” so far.
He said that is critical to creating a successful environment and culture for all the members of the team.
“Once again, this year at this time, the chemistry is very strong and we continue to build on that,” he said.
It will be important for the team to establish that chemistry early. In the first USCHO.com Division III women’s hockey poll of the season, UW-River Falls is ranked sixth in the nation and UW-Superior is ranked eighth.
Both River Falls and Superior are in the NCHA as well. Adrian College (Mich.), another NCHA team, received votes to be in the top ten as well. Adrian won the NCHA title in 2010-11. In the Blugolds’ first three conference games, they face Superior, Adrian and River Falls to start the season.
“All three teams were top level teams last year in the conference. I mean that’s a tough start to the season. If we went .500 in those six games, I’d be happy,” Collins said. “It’s the old cliché; it’s one game at a time, but we are not worried about River Falls right now.”
Heading into the first series of the year against Superior, they’ve already suffered a couple tough losses in non-conference play. After falling to Bethel University (Minn.) in a home-and-home series, they look to turn it around entering conference play on Saturday.
In the series against Bethel, they lost 7-1 during the away game at Bethel and lost 4-1 in Eau Claire.
The Blugolds were called for three minor penalties resulting in six minutes on the penalty kill and a powerplay goal for Bethel.
Senior forward and captain Allison Malecek thought there were many reasons for the loss.
“I think we got the referees’ decisions get to our heads. Attitudes on the bench dropped, hustle on the ice dropped and we didn’t give ourselves a chance by letting the penalties affect us,” Malecek said.
The game in Eau Claire wasn’t all a negative for the team. Freshman Taylor Bowker scored her first goal in the third period to put the Blugolds on the board.
“It was pretty exciting for sure,” Bowker said. “I was pretty jacked.”
To get back on track, Collins said that it comes down to working hard and believing in the system.
“When it comes down to it, you still have to work for 60 minutes and grow as a team and learn about ourselves,” Collins said.
With the exception of the Nov. 16 game against River Falls as a part of a home-and-home series, the Blugolds do not play a road game in November. They will not have a road series until Dec. 8- 9 against Marian University.
“I just encourage the students that on Fri. and Sat. nights, there’s going to be hockey here in some form or fashion. If the guys are on the road, we’re at home. If we’re on the road, they’re at home. Come and check it out. If they haven’t, it’s worth a look. It’s free (for university students). I think it’s good entertainment. Do yourself a favor.”