How has Wisconsin put together a run that, outside of Mark Johnson’s Olympic hiatus, always seems to have them ranked in the upper echelon and poised to make a championship run? The reasons are many, but suffice it to say that a key factor is that the Badgers always seem to have an abundance of talent stockpiled.
Early in Johnson’s tenure, that depth was most apparent in goal and on defense, but in recent years, it is at the forward position that Wisconsin’s superiority has been most clearly demonstrated. While the wealth of talent is a luxury for the coach, it does require that athletes coming into the program wait their turn on occasion.
Brooke Ammerman, a senior from River Vale, N.J., skated on Wisconsin’s third line as a freshman.
“It was a good transition for me, because it made me play a defensive game, but at the same time I got to play with upperclassmen and had the green light to score goals and create opportunities, which is awesome,” she says. “So I was still productive and still saw some power-play time, but it also made me more responsible defensively.”
She was productive to an extent seldom seen from third-line players, as Ammerman managed to rack up 27 goals and 27 assists for 54 points as a rookie.
“Whether you’re on the first line, or people say you’re on the third line, she’s scored a lot of big goals,” Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson says.
One need not look beyond the final game of her first year to see an example. Ammerman scored to break a scoreless second-period tie and start the Badgers on their way to a 5-0 victory over Mercyhurst and an NCAA title.
“She’s got a very good stick,” Johnson says. “She’s got a knack of getting the puck to the net, so on a power play, she becomes a really tough weapon.”
As a senior, Ammerman finds herself as Brianna Decker’s right wing on Wisconsin’s top line, with Carolyne Prévost on the left. Despite Prévost missing seven games due to injury and national team commitments, the trio has combined for 124 points thus far, with Ammerman providing 18 goals and 27 assists.
“This year, as I tell a lot of my seniors, it’s the last kick at the can,” Johnson says. “Make sure you have a good summer conditioning and training, because you only play 34 more regular season games and you’re done. So she got off to a great start, as Prévost has and Decker.”
Each player offers something different to the line.
“We always kind of talk about how we’re able to mesh so well and chemistry is the most important thing, and I think with my line alone, Decker is a hard-nosed, two-way player, and then you have ‘Prevy’ with the speed, and I guess I have more of the hands and the vision, so I think it’s cool that it works so well, and it doesn’t always happen, but I think this year it has really clicked,” Ammerman says.
Once on the top line, the pressure to score increases from the expectations of a third unit. As a senior, Ammerman is ready to shoulder that responsibility.
“Definitely, we have to produce, but it also is cool through the years to see how the upperclassmen can take that role and run with it, and then allow the underclassmen just to play their game and come out and just play hard and not have to worry about the pressure,” she says. “And that’s so successful over the years. That’s what I was able to do my freshman year. It allows the freshmen to just grow that way.”
Coaching is crucial for optimal growth.
“I think Mark Johnson is a very special coach, and he knows how to motivate us and put people in situations to succeed, and I think that’s the coolest part about him,” Ammerman says. “He gives you a lot of space to do what you need to do, and also reigns us in when we need to be reigned in. He keeps it fun, he keeps us hungry.”
Brooke isn’t the only Ammerman on the team — younger sister Brittany is a sophomore wing on the line typically centered by Hilary Knight.
“It was a nice transition my freshman year,” Brittany Ammerman says. “I knew some of the girls already, because I’d come and visit Brooke. It’s always nice to have someone that’s older than you like Brooke to show you the ropes a little bit, and teach you, and be able to criticize you and take it not personally, because she is your sister.”
Their coach sees positives in their relationship that extends beyond the typical mentoring performed by upperclassmen.
“They live together back in Madison, they see a lot of each other, but they like each other,” Johnson says. “They take care of each other. Part of coming into Division I women’s hockey is to learn how to play at this level. For some kids, the adjustment is easy, and they jump right in and do very well and have success. Other kids, it’s a growing process. So you try to work with each one of them, help them develop, help them keep their confidence up, and give them opportunities that will give them a chance to be successful. I think Brooke has helped her out, because anytime you have someone that you can talk to away from the rink and get a positive reinforcement and maybe some constructive criticism, I think those things are going to help Brit grow.”
Obviously, the learning process extends beyond verbal comments.
“You look who is on the power play; you have Decker and Knight and Brooke and ‘Prevy,’” Brittany Ammerman says. “They’re all upperclassmen, they’re all very good. They’ve all been to national teams. It’s nice because you get to watch them, and you get to learn from them. It’s a team sport, and it’s good to have that depth. I know my role on the team and I know what I have to do. It’s not goal scoring all of the time, because we have them, but I definitely have a role. Last year, I watched Meghan Duggan a lot and learned from her.”
The younger sister acknowledges that she is a different type of player from her sibling. Brooke Ammerman exhibits moves that are hard for teammates to emulate and opponents to anticipate.
“She’s just a gritty player, crashes hard to the net, and has secret skills,” Minnesota defenseman Megan Bozek says. “You never know what she’s going to do.”
Her skills have the Wisconsin senior on the brink of 200 points for her career. She has amassed 183 points with 12 regular-season games plus the postseason still to play.
Both sisters were invited to the USA hockey camp in Blaine over the holidays. Johnson says how far they progress in the international game is up to them.
“So you get an opportunity, and what are you going to do when you get that opportunity?” he says. “A lot of it is in preparation. You can be a good Division I college player, but the next step up on the national team, the international level, is the difference between playing in the minor leagues or playing in the NHL. When you get that chance to make a difference, take and seize those opportunities.”
For the next three months, their focus is on the college game and helping the Badgers defend their title. They opened 2012 at Minnesota, and they’ll follow that up with consecutive series against North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Bemidji State, all ranked in the Top 10.
“I think this stretch in January is similar to October, where we’re going to play some of the best teams in the country,” Brooke Ammerman says. “That’ll really help us come back after Christmas and really get us going.”