A New State of Hockey

“We’re trying to make a name for Wisconsin, and we say in the locker room that Wisconsin is the new state of hockey.” — Badger sophomore forward Jinelle Zaugg, following her two-goal effort in Wisconsin’s 3-0 NCAA final victory

“With their hard work and team spirit all season long, the Badger women’s hockey team represents the very best of Wisconsin. Their championship victory and dominating play epitomize what the Badger women believe — ‘That Wisconsin is the new state of hockey.'” — Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle

Since winning the NCAA championship at Minnesota on March 26, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team has been through a whirlwind of publicity. They were welcomed enthusiastically at the Kohl Center upon their return to Madison. They were praised in the Office of the Governer and on the floor of Congress. Their coach Mark Johnson was named the AHCA Coach of the Year.

Jinelle Zaugg celebrates Wisconsin's NCAA women's title on March 26. (Photo: John E. Van Barriger / <a href='http://words-photos.com'>words-photos.com</a>)” /></p>
<div class=Jinelle Zaugg celebrates Wisconsin’s NCAA women’s title on March 26. (Photo: John E. Van Barriger / words-photos.com)

The men’s NCAA championship in Milwaukee made Wisconsin the first school to win the title in the same year for both sexes. Wisconsin men’s captain Adam Burish and his senior sister Nikki Burish became the sports’ new most celebrated siblings, replacing Tony and Cammi Granato.

Johnson said throughout the Women’s Frozen Four that the event’s big winner would be women’s hockey. That is true for the state of Wisconsin in particular. The sports’ boost in state derives from more than just the perfect storm of men’s and women’s NCAA titles won in rinks just hours from Madison. The more long-run impact could come from the home-grown women’s players who provided starring efforts in the championship run. They will serve as heroes and role models in the local community for a long time.

Freshman goalie Jessie Vetter of Cottage Grove became the unlikeliest of Women’s Frozen Four MOPs after unprecedented back-to-back championship shutouts — despite not playing a college game until December. Sophomore Jinelle Zaugg of Eagle River scored Wisconsin’s first and third goals on the power play, and senior Cyndy Kenyon of Sparta assisted on both those goals. Senior Nikki Burish of Madison created havoc in the defensive zone while setting up classmate Grace Hutchins (from Winnetka, Ill. only 30 miles from the Wisconsin border) for the game’s second goal, just 30 seconds after Zaugg’s first.

“Having a lot of Wisconsin kids, hopefully in the near future a lot of young ladies put their skates on and dream of becoming a Badger one day,” Johnson said. “Hopefully in five to eight years, we have someone that comes through and says, ‘I saw you guys win the championship, I saw Jesse Vetter and Jinelle Zaugg and that’s why I started skating.'”

Aspiring Wisconsin women’s hockey players have had more opportunities to see Vetter and Zaugg than this most recent championship. Both have worked in camps with the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association (WAHA) and helped girls who want to follow in their footsteps. Many of the Badgers first played together with WAHA’s Team Wisconsin a decade prior to their college enrollment.

“A lot of us grew up playing boys because girls hockey wasn’t that big, and before and after the season, we’d always be on some of the same teams,” Burish said. “All of us, our dream growing up was to play at Wisconsin. When we were youngsters, we knew we’d meet each other again later on life, and to win the national championship is great.”

At 6'1, Jinelle Zaugg is the tallest player on Wisconsin's roster. (Photo: John E. Van Barriger / <a href='http://words-photos.com'>words-photos.com</a>)” /></p>
<div class=At 6’1, Jinelle Zaugg is the tallest player on Wisconsin’s roster. (Photo: John E. Van Barriger / words-photos.com)

Zaugg’s hometown of Eagle River (population 1,443) is local to some lakes with unique names — Scattering Rice Lake, Anvil Lake, and Planting Ground Lake — and some with simple descriptive names — Long Lake and Big Lake. The lake is where Zaugg first learned to skate, before she turned to boys hockey. Now girls hockey is starting up in Eagle River, and Zaugg has been a leader in the effort.

“I’ve been able to talk to all those girls and try to help them see their future with Wisconsin, with other college hockey — to see that it’s a possibility,” Zaugg said. “I think it gives them a lot of hope. Hockey is all it is in Eagle River. If there’s open time you go skate somewhere — lake, rink, anything.”

While local Wisconsin talent has fueled the Badger program, the depth of women’s hockey in the state is still nowhere near Minnesota, whose talent pool fuels rosters for several D-I teams and sends several players East as well. But Wisconsin could narrow the gap with this new wave of mentors coming through.

“I hope little girls are looking up to us,” Burish said. “Growing up I looked to men’s players. Now that our team has been successful, little girls will be able to look to teams like ours. The game has been a love since I’ve been little, and hopefully I can keep involved and work with camps and instill that love into little girls too.”

Although a boost in Wisconsin’s homegrown talent could spread to D-I schools outside of the state’s border, it would largely benefit Wisconsin, as the advantages of playing to the hometown crowd can be overwhelming. Just ask Cyndy Kenyon.

Kenyon played her two years of eligibility at Northeastern, where she thrived as the team’s leading scorer her sophomore year for a program that flirted with a top 10 ranking. She started looking to transfer as she was unhappy with a turnover in the assistant coaching staff at midseason.

Jinelle Zaugg (L) scores the Badgers' first NCAA final goal on a feed from fellow Wisconsin native Cyndy Kenyon (R). (Photo: John E. Van Barriger / <a href='http://words-photos.com'>words-photos.com</a>)” /></p>
<div class=Jinelle Zaugg (L) scores the Badgers’ first NCAA final goal on a feed from fellow Wisconsin native Cyndy Kenyon (R). (Photo: John E. Van Barriger / words-photos.com)